June 11--For Ona Breeland, making it to doctor appointments is vital.
The 69-year-old, who is legally blind and lives outside Tyler city limits on Texas Highway 31, has diabetes along with chronic back problems and other medical issues. She has at least six appointments monthly.
Ms. Breeland will not have GoBus -- a rural transportation system operated by East Texas Council of Governments -- as a transportation option anymore due to recent changes.
After June 15, GoBus will no longer serve 107 customers in the Tyler area.
More than 90 of those customers are in unincorporated areas of Smith County, including Flint as well as areas northeast and northwest of Tyler. More than 10 affected customers are in the Whitehouse city limits, with four in the Bullard city limits.
Customers in Lindale, Troup, Arp, Noonday, Winona and Hideaway are not affected.
John Hedrick, director of transportation for the East Texas Council of Governments, said the affected customers are now in a designated urbanized area, rather than a rural area, based on 2010 U.S. Census data. Therefore, GoBus is no longer receiving funding to serve those areas.
"We know this is an important change that affects many," East Texas Council of Governments spokeswoman Lindsay Vanderbilt said. "We wish we could continue our service as is to accommodate those who rely on it, but unfortunately our funding won't allow for that."
Meanwhile, customers may call GoBus if they do not know whether they are within the GoBus service area, Ms. Vanderbilt said.
GoBus averages about 600 trips per day in 14 counties. Hedrick estimated that about 40 percent of GoBus customers in East Texas Council of Governments' 14-county area are elderly and/or in a wheelchair.
Trips must be scheduled by 2 p.m. the day before, and GoBus will book trips up to seven days prior to an appointment.
GoBus is also changing its business hours. Hours currently are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. After June 15, hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Aside from GoBus, there are different transportation providers that serve individuals who are disabled.
Tyler Transit provides paratransit service within city limits, in addition to its normal fixed-route bus service, while local taxi service NDMJ Ltd. Transportation serves paratransit customers in Tyler and some areas of Smith County.
The city's paratransit service runs Monday through Friday and part of Saturday, as does the city's fixed-route bus service.
Ridership generally peaks between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. then subsides and is slow after 1 p.m., Tyler City Manager Mark McDaniel said. He primarily attributed that to people going to work and to the doctor for dialysis.
Tyler's paratransit ridership has increased from about 40 or 50 trips per day to an average high of 150 trips per day (but has reached as high as 240 trips per day last week) (a round trip counts as two separate trips), city officials said.
So McDaniel said the city, when needed, is borrowing staff from other departments that are mostly commercial, highly skilled drivers.
He pointed out that the city's paratransit service is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act rather than on income. He said most of the paratransit customers are elderly but also people who might be blind or have some other disability.
No matter who the customer is, they must call the prior day for service, McDaniel said. They must also prequalify through the city's application process.
McDaniel said that once the person is qualified, they can schedule trips. The city can do some same-day service, he said, but only if the customer or patron has exhausted other same-day service means. Customers who call on the same day are usually referred to NDMJ or another same-day service provider.
McDaniel said overall the city's paratransit service has done a fantastic job.
"We have drawn on employees from other departments. We've got the capacity to deal with that kind of a change (an increase in ridership). We also have a motor pool so we're using vans and we're using paratransit buses and we're using some sedans," he said.
NDMJ President Jamal Moharer said customers who want to use NDMJ's paratransit services within the city limits of Tyler must qualify by filling out an application with the city. Once the person qualifies, that person is issued a card and may make a reservation, he said.
Individuals used to have to call NDMJ at least 24 hours in advance. Now, no advanced notice is required. NDMJ runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Although GoBus will no longer be able to continue serving certain customers, NDMJ could still be an option.
McDaniel said a paratransit customer whose trip goes between Tyler and somewhere outside Tyler city limits could potentially get service from NDMJ using a voucher provided by Smith County. Adrienne Hampton, public relations liaison/executive assistant to the Smith County Commissioners Court, said the county has received funding for additional vouchers, which are meant to supplement what GoBus already does.
Additionally, the East Texas Council of Governments is still going after funding for an implementation plan for East Texas United, which, according to an ETCOG document, is "a route running from Bullard through Tyler to UT Health Northeast to Gladewater and into Longview via US 80."
Hedrick said the route could essentially give another option to GoBus customers who will no longer be served after June 15. ETCOG's application is still pending.
As far as Tyler, the city is not in a position where it could fund services outside of Tyler city limits and doesn't want Tyler taxpayers to pay for services that are outside city limits, McDaniel said.
"We could apply to be a service provider, but who's going to pay the local match?" he said.
"We're just not interested in providing services outside of city limits. If we can help to coordinate, facilitate like we have been then we can, but that's kind of our position at this point," he added.
For now, a city Lean Six Sigma project is in the works to determine the financial feasibility of the city keeping its paratransit service in-house instead of contracting out for the service as it previously did. Tyler previously had a contract with NDMJ for paratransit services.
If at the end of the Lean Six Sigma project, the city decides to keep its paratransit service in- house, then it would probably end up buying more vehicles and hiring more regular full-time staff drivers, McDaniel said. He expects the Lean Six Sigma project to wrap up by early July.
Moharer said people have been pleased with the courteous service that NDMJ provides, and he will wait to see the results of the city's evaluation.
Service: Tyler Paratransit
Service area: Tyler
Type of service: curb-to-curb (or door to door if needed) transportation service for persons with disabilities. Certification is required for eligibility. Requests for service must be made at least the day before the desired service, and up to 14 days in advance.
Where it goes: Within Tyler city limits
Service Hours: 6 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Cash fares for Fixed Route:
Type of service: Fixed-route bus service
Service Hours: Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where it goes: Within the Tyler city limits. Main transfer point at the Cotton Belt Train Depot.
Age 12 and older: $1
Children 11 and under: 50 cents
Medicare, seniors (65 and older) and persons with disabilities: 50 cents
All fares are for one-way trips and include free transfers.
Tyler Transit offers customers the option to purchase tickets, tokens and passes at the Tyler Transit office, 210 E. Oakwood St.
Half Fare/Child Tickets: 50 cents
Passenger bus passes start the day that the pass is purchased and can be used for unlimited rides for the duration of the pass.
The current price for passes:
Regular 30-Day Pass: $40
Half Fare 30-Day Pass: $20
Student 30-Day Pass: $20
Student semester pass: $50 for fall and spring; $40 for summer
Regular Seven-Day Pass: $10
Half Fare Seven-Day Pass: $5
Student seven-day pass: $5
All-day pass: $2
-- Half fare prices are for individuals who are Medicare recipients, seniors (65 and older), and for Persons with Disabilities using fixed route. To take advantage of the half fare price you must bring documentation to our office and purchase a Tyler Transit half-fare ID card ($2) to show to the driver every time you board the bus.
For more information: 903-533-8057 or www.cityoftyler.org or www.Tylerbus.org
Where it goes: Does not provide service within the city of Tyler, but brings rural customers into Tyler.
Type of service: Shared ride reservation service that will pick you up at your home or specified location and take you to the GoBus destination of your choice. Call for appointment times and available destinations.
Fares: $2 a trip
For more information: 800-590-3371 orwww.etcog.org/234/GoBus.htm .
How it will change: After June 15, 107 customers now considered to be in the Tyler urbanized area will not be able to continue using GoBus.
Hours currently are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. After June 15, hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Service: NDMJ supplemental transportation
Type of service: Shared ride service available to some Smith County passengers that supplements regular GoBus and Tyler paratransit service. NDMJ operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week; evenings, holidays and weekends. Call for eligibility requirements.
Where it goes: Smith County with extended service as needed.
For more information: call 903-592-3232 orwww.TylerCab.com
Source: East Texas Council of Governments, ETCOG Regional Mobility Guide, city of Tyler website and city of Tyler
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