The proposal, which would begin July 1, would 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.

A transportation committee formed by Camden County Developmental Disability Resources has proposed an expanded transportation project to serve the Lake area through OATS, a public transportation service that caters to rural areas.

OATS Mid-Missouri Regional Director Jack Heusted met with committee members on May 9 at CCDDR’s office in Osage Beach to discuss the proposal introduced during the public meeting.

Heusted has submitted a special funding request authorization on the agenda for an SB-40 Board meeting on Monday to consider funding a little more than half the cost of the expanded services with Oats covering the rest of the cost totaled to be a little over $81,000.

The transportation committee was developed out of a transportation task force launched last April by CCDDR to address public transportation, health transportation and employment transportation needs for Camden, Miller and Morgan counties. Heusted, Chaz Nickolaus of the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council and board members of CCDDR as well as those who utilize OATS have been selected for the committee.

On May 4, CCDDR board members voted to form the transportation committee to narrow down certain projects and goals formed through monthly meetings of the task force, which is composed of health providers, employers and not-for-profit organizations.

The proposal, which would begin July 1, would 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.

The service would 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.

Participants would be required to reserve a spot on the bus at least 24 hours in advance and could use the service to get to medical appointments, community events, personal shopping needs or simply a ride to church.

Huested said 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.

Instead of using Medicaid services, CCDDR began directly contracting with OATS for the services and saved $160,000 in one year for 43 people. That adds up to about $6,000 or $7,000 of local Senate Bill-40 funds paid by Camden County taxpayers, Thomas told the committee.

According to Heusted, the cost of running the proposed 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, but area entities would need to come up with $44,009 to cover the cost of the stipulated local grant match. Huested has proposed SB-40 board cover the cost, since a majority of their clients already use OATS for employment transportation.

Thomas said the goal is to establish the service route with a backbone of employees so there would be a consistent and adequate need.

Both Huested and Thomas said they hope the demand would be so great that OATS would again have to expand services.

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 serve the general public.

According to a recent employer survey of businesses in Morgan, Miller, Camden and Laclede counties, 94 percent said they would be willing to have a transportation stop at their facility.

A total of 33 percent of respondents said at any given time, one to five employees have had transportation issues, and 74 percent said their employees would benefit from public transportation. Sixty-one surveys were submitted.

When polling everyday citizens in the four-county area, a total of 596 surveys were submitted in regards to current transportation needs. A total of 21 percent of respondents said they needed transportation, with the biggest reasons cited as medical and grocery/food pantry visits.

A total of 28 percent of respondents said they need daily transportation help, while 34 percent said they would use a public transportation system regularly.

A total of 15 percent of people responded that they had lost a job or had trouble finding a job in the last two years due to a lack of transportation.

Deidré Van Syoc of Osage Beach has been using OATS for the past six or seven years. As a committee member and active user, she’s excited for the possibility of expanded services and provides a unique perspective into the ongoing discussions.

“I’ve been able to ride with my daughter with me, volunteer at her school functions,” said Van Syoc, who is blind. “I wouldn’t be able to to go anywhere without OATS.”