Helping the 'Transit-Dependent'

Cap Metro mulls transit options for those in need

Food, clothing, housing – those are the first things that come to mind when one thinks of the needy. But another need follows close behind those basics: transportation. Getting to (and keeping) that job or the grocery store or the day care makes mobility a necessity, especially in a region that's increasingly sprawled out.

Capital Metro plays a huge role in meeting that need, especially for the "transit-dependent" – those without a vehicle or incapable of driving one. That role has been spotlighted lately during budget discussions – just as times are getting hard, the agency is discussing raising fares again. One-way, single-trip fares rose from 50 cents to 75 cents last year and are slated to jump again, to $1 in August 2010 (or perhaps as soon as January, by a recent Cap Metro proposal).

Local social-service providers and Cap Metro team up to help the transit-dependent, with Cap Metro offering a number of heavily discounted bus passes, which the providers purchase and distribute to their clients. But that puts a burden on both: It means Cap Metro is even more heavily subsidizing rides that even at full price are mostly covered by taxes, and the providers have to dig into already scarce funds to buy the passes.

So the transit agency has proposed a solution: the formation of a new nonprofit focused on providing for the transportation needs of this demographic. "Nobody out there in the nonprofit world is focused on transportation needs," says Capital Metro community outreach coordinator John-Michael Cortez. "We're a part of it, but not the only part.

"It sounds bad to say this, but Capital Metro is not a social-service agency. We're set up to serve the entire community. Most of our ridership is below the median income, but we have a responsibility to serve all."

The idea is still in the embryonic stages, but Cortez hopes to brainstorm with the providers to set up something along the lines of Cincin­nati's Everybody Rides Metro program. "There are lots of resources that can be accessed for the discount passes that aren't being used now, [such as] federal funds," Cortez says. "Capital Metro can't access them, and the nonprofits can't easily access them. But if we had an organization solely focused on that, we could expand resources for everybody.

"At some point, it becomes a sustainability issue for us and a sustainability issue for these nonprofits because they're spending money on something that isn't their core mission. Should they spend that money on passes or hire another caseworker?

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