York County Access, the on-demand bus service that takes county residents to medical appointments, grocery shopping and jobs, is a service for people who don’t have access to affordable transportation. It was never designed to make money for the county.
David Pettine, county planning and development director, made that important distinction at a recent County Council meeting in response to Councilman Joe Cox’s suggestion that the county shouldn’t subsidize ithe program. Cox recommended eliminating it or leaving it to survive on money from fares.
“This thing will never self-support,” he said.
And while he’s probably right about that, he misses the objective of the service.
York County Access, which was launched in 2006 and is operated by the Council on Aging, is scheduled to receive about $67,000 from the county during the next year. A federal grant will contribute about $95,000 and state money will pay nearly $28,000 to help run the buses.
The city of Rock Hill started its own transit service in 2007, Dial-A-Ride, linked to York County Access and also run by the Council on Aging, to serve residents within the city limits. The program, championed by former City Councilman John Gettys, was an immediate hit with riders.
The service is designed primarily to help the elderly and the disabled get to and from medical appointments and take care of other personal needs at a cost of $2.50 per trip. Without the service, many of those people would have to rely entirely on friends and relatives to transport them or call a taxi.
Before the bus service was initiated, some residents were paying $100 a month or more for rides to see a doctor or do routine errands.
In 2010, Rock Hill, building on the initial success of Dial-A-Ride, began offering a Ride-To-Work program with three buses running at peak travel times on weekday mornings and afternoons, ferrying city residents to and from work for $2.50 each way. The program was seen as a crucial way to connect people with jobs during the economic downturn.
Rock Hill was awarded $410,000 in Recovery Act money to buy six vans – three for the new service and three to replace aging vehicles. The grant also covered operating costs for the first year of service.
Neither the city nor county program has ever made money, and they were never meant to. Neither has ever been self supporting, and probably never will be.
Both are services that use local, state and federal resources to help people in need with few, if any, other affordable transportation options. In a practical sense, it is an efficient way to help people get medical care, buy food and other essentials, and maintain some independence so that they do not become even more reliant on public welfare.
The Ride-To-Work program also helps people stay employed and remain productive residents.
To help curb the cost to taxpayers, the council gave initial approval Monday to setting a monthly mileage limit for the program. Rock Hill already has a similar limit.
That seems reasonable. But eliminating the program or requiring it to be self-supporting as Cox suggests, does not.
It took years of planning and hard work to establish these valuable services. Abandoning them now would be a big step backward for the county.