Just this fiscal year, RCPT has fully coordinated with the Adjustment Training Centers in the area and have taken over their fleet. RCPT worked at bettering the coordination though grants and incorporated some of the rides on to its demand-response system.
“It’s certainly been a win-win for us. We can take that contract money and, of course, match federal money to keep the rest of our public transit going.”
Baumgart adds, “Coordination isn’t easy, but it certainly is the right thing to do if you look at the goal. The goal is to make sure people have the freedom to get to jobs, to get out for fun and entertainment, and get to medical appointments.”
All of these coordinated efforts also work to make people in the community more aware of the transit system. With this increased visibility and a variety of people relying on RCPT’s services, it has gained credibility in the community. “We did not have that at one time,” Baumgart states.
“People just didn’t even realize that there was a system in town.”
Feeding a Growing System
Going from 12,000 rides in 2001 to 215,000 last fiscal year, operating costs have also jumped. I asked Baumgart how he provides this additional service and he says with a laugh, “It’s a challenge.” He continues, “The reason I’m in the shop less and in here more is that’s about all I do — I write grants, stay on top of the financial side.”
As mentioned earlier, the coordination with local partners has generated money for the match. “There’s hardly anybody else providing transportation around here anymore on the public side so we’ve tapped most of those resources,” Baumgart says. “I can remember a couple years ago when SAFETEA-LU gave rural transit, I think our state went up from about $1.4 million in 5311 funds to $4.4 million and there was some concern that we wouldn’t even be able to spend that money in the state.
“Well we’ve got a very progressive transit department at our state level and two years later we’re already scraping for money,” he says.
He states, “High gas prices are our best friend and our worst enemy.” He explains. “Our gas budget this year is about $100,000 more than our total budget was the year I came on to River Cities Public Transit. But more people are riding because of the fuel costs.
“Certainly a challenge,” he reiterates. “I just know that if we work at it together and if the state realizes a need and we show the state leaders some of our new technology and how we’re trying to become more efficient…”
He stops and shares an example. “We use some ADA minivans and we’ve really pushed here with going with the Sprinter vans like you see FedEx and UPS using, which make like 19/20 miles per gallon instead of 5 or 7.” He says, “We’re doing everything we can and I think if the Governor, the state DOT and the local community realizes that, they will help us find the funds because public transit is so necessary.”
Baumgart has worked at getting RCPT connected to the community and he has gotten himself connected in the transit community. Learning form others, what makes their transit work, has provided knowledge and guidance.
“I think the more you meet people, you learn things in classes, but you also learn a lot in the hallways visiting with people,” he says. “There’s probably not a problem that somebody else hasn’t already faced and hasn’t figured out a solution. You just need to talk to that person.”
There were several examples he gave, one of them was his involvement with the Easter Seals Project Action. “We were part of the team that went to get trained on coordination some years back,” he says. “And since, I think I’ve helped about every year.” The faculty members do coordination trainings for rural transit.
“The Easter Seals Project Action has one large workshop every year, usually in the D.C. area that brings about 20 teams in throughout the United States to teach coordination and enhancement of public transit,” Baumgart says. “Then I’ll also go out and do some consulting work for them.” He’s been out to three or four visits to communities to help with public transit in their area. “I’ve learned every bit as much teaching as I did sitting in the class.”