MO: Joplin continues to work on regional transit plan

June 3, 2024
Joplin officials are still working on a regional replacement for the Sunshine Lamp Trolley, with interim steps to increase MAPS service.

May 31—Joplin officials are still working on a regional replacement for the Sunshine Lamp Trolley, with interim steps to increase MAPS service.

The trolley formerly provided weekday rides along three routes until a labor shortage forced its shutdown in 2022. The issues with keeping specially licensed commercial drivers for trolley service continues, preventing a restart of the service now, but a new pay scale has been put in place to attract applicants to what is planned as a regional service, according to city officials. In addition, the city is changing the size of vehicles used for public transportation to smaller ones that do not require the more comprehensive commercial driver's license that past trolley buses required, which crimped the city service because of competition for those drivers.

The trolley buses were 40 feet long to carry a large number of passengers with up to four wheelchairs.

"But for MAPS, it is not the right vehicle. So to be more flexible, even when the trolley starts again, we still want to stick with that smaller vehicle because of the flexibility it offers us and the licensing is at a lower level," said Dan Johnson, Joplin public works director.

MAPS requires an appointment be made in advance to obtain a ride. Because of that, everything, including grocery trips, must be preplanned in order to book the appointment for MAPS, which picks up riders at a designated location.

Some survey respondents said the service does not allow riders to stop at more than one location. Riders had complained that if they go to a medical appointment, they cannot then get to a pharmacy to get a prescription filled on their way home. City officials said that is a misunderstanding.

Johnson said, "You are allowed to schedule two rides a day. Most people do it that way. If they to go more places, they can call, and if we can fit it in that trip, we will."

Another complaint in the survey was that some respondents said they do not have a phone to confirm a MAPS ride. Also, a potential rider must have a physical address, which many homeless people do not have, a One Joplin representative told city officials recently.

But Johnson said that also is a misconception.

"We ask for a home address because we need to know that to assess the charges, but we don't refuse service because there is no home address. We pick you up whether you have a home address or not," he said.

Tony Robyn, assistant city manager, said the concerns expressed are not daily occurrences with MAPS service but more isolated incidents.

"We have a certain clientele with the MAPS riders. This is an important service for them, and we recognize that. Our drivers and our dispatchers talk to these individuals every day or all the time. Drivers and dispatchers know what the issues are, and they can be flexible" when necessary, he said.

The city last year was awarded a $400,000 grant by the Federal Transit Administration to form a regional fixed-route transit service for an area larger than Joplin alone. That work is ongoing, Robyn and Johnson said, but could likely take another two years to put together.

Forming the regional service requires a series of steps including a study to guide the formation of the service and to identify gaps in the area's transportation network. Robyn said it would look at how to bring other communities into the transportation program to expand regional service. There also will need to be state legislation to form a regional transportation board.

In the meantime, city administration and the council have been building a new pay structure to attract more drivers and dispatchers. They also have added two more vans to bolster the number of people who can be served by the MAPS service, Johnson said.

There are about 225 rides given per day per vehicle.

"That tells me it is an important service, and we are at capacity," Johnson said.

___

(c)2024 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

Visit The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) at www.joplinglobe.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.