A special funding request by OATS to provide a rural public transportation service for the Lake area was recently approved by Camden County’s Senate Bill-40 Board.

A special funding request by OATS to provide a rural public transportation service for the Lake area was recently approved by Camden County’s Senate Bill-40 Board.

In mid-May, the SB-40 Board approved a $44,009 request proposed through OATS Mid-Missouri Regional Director Jack Heusted and a local transportation task force working alongside Camden County’s Developmental Disabilities Resources.

The stakeholders had met on May 9, 2017 to discuss the services that will begin next month and available to members of the public for the purpose of medical appointments, shopping, recreation and other reserved uses.

The service is scheduled to run from 2 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, operating on a priority and first-come, first-served basis and costing travelers a rate of $5 for within city round trips and $7 for within county round trips.

For next day services Tuesday through Thursday a reservation must be called in by 1:00 p.m. the day before. Reservations must be called in by 1:00 p.m. on Friday for Saturday, Sunday and Monday rides. Interested riders may call 1-800-269-6237 or 573-449-3789 to access the service starting the first of July.

The goal is to provide the general public - with no income restrictions - an opportunity to reserve a ride one way or round trip using an OATS bus for designated times on weekday evenings and weekends. After receiving the reservations, a route would be formulated for that specific day.

Huested said during the May meeting OATS has no intention of competing with taxi cab services, and since rides will be prioritized based on the seriousness of the request, he doesn’t foresee anyone trying to abuse the system designed for those without reliable access to transportation.

OATS currently partners with CCDDR to provide sheltered workshop employees with transportation to and from work, a program that was initiated by the task force and has actually saved taxpayer money, according to Executive Director Ed Thomas.

However, both Thomas and Huested were quick to point out that OATS can provide service to practically anyone, but cannot use certain grant monies on the general public. According to Heusted, the cost of running the extended service would cost approximately $81,498 for 2,397 hours a year of service at $34 per hour.

OATS expects to receive a total of $37,498 of grant money for the service and Huested had proposed SB-40 board cover the remaining cost, since a majority of their clients already use OATS for employment transportation.

Thomas said the foundation of the service route will at first feature a backbone of employees so there would be a consistent and adequate need. Both Huested and Thomas said they hoped the demand would be so great that OATS would again have to expand services in the Lake area.

OATS currently schedules 15 buses a day for the tri-county area and is getting ready to hire three more drivers for the area, Heusted noted, adding that this area was the busiest in the region, even more so than Columbia.

Most of those buses are strictly used for employment purposes, but the partners hope to expand the service through this proposal to reach those struggling with transportation needs for whatever reason.