GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County residents upset with local transportation services are being handled since being taken over Jan. 2 by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, spoke out at the …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County residents upset with local transportation services are being handled since being taken over Jan. 2 by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, spoke out at the county’s transportation for disadvantaged committee meeting.
The Clay County Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board met Feb. 8 and heard from residents concerned about transportation services, but they left pleased with the news JTA was looking into bringing back the flex routes.
JTA is contracted to run transportation disadvantaged for life-sustaining trips or medical appointments. In January, JTA handled 89 trips a day, though it had the budget for up to 110 trips. JTA Vice President JTA Transit Operations Lisa Darnall said JTA currently didn’t have contracts for rides called “Other Services,” such as trips to adult daycares or if a disadvantaged resident who needs to go shopping, which used to be taken care of by the former Clay Transit flex routes.
The Council on Aging of Clay County scrapped its five public flex routes in December as a tourniquet to cut off hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Darnall said one of JTA’s goals was reestablishing altered forms of the Red and Blue lines as soon as possible with assistance from the state Department of Transportation.
However, Darnall said a date or dollar amount hadn’t been set to bring the flex routes back.
“We recently took a lot of this info to our board,” Darnall said.
The main portion of public comment left residents wondering when the “Other Services” rides would return.
Dorothy Cloud, 83, said her husband Jack Cloud, 86, had Alzheimer’s and she couldn’t leave him alone. His two trips to Moosehaven’s adult daycare were a lifesaver, she said. His time at adult daycare provides Dorothy with a respite from caregiving.
“Transportation is a very necessary part of our lives for us,” Dorothy Cloud said.
Marc Gross, who has a cognitive disability, told board members he was overjoyed when he first discovered the service.
“When the services no longer arrived, and I was told they were no longer available, I was blindsided. I just want to go on record as saying the services are vital to many people,” Gross said. “I had to pass up opportunities because transportation wasn’t available.”
County Auditor Mike Price said a misconception about the transition of transportation services was that the county was responsible or had authority to prevent, fix the Council on Aging’s problem. Price said the county couldn’t have intervened in the Council on Aging’s noticeable staff turnover or other aspects he found in their accounting, such as co-mingling of flex routes and transportation disadvantaged funds.
“The more you disguise those costs the harder it is to take action to fix them,” Price said. “We knew there was going to be an impact, there’s never a good time to transition these types of services.”
After hearing Darnall’s report, Bolla said the problem was roughly 80 percent figured out. He thanked Challenge Enterprises for operating the Council on Aging’s buses to get its clients to work.
“We still have this issue where we’ve got these great senior daycare centers and we need to be able to get our people there and we have folks who want to go to work and can’t get there,” Bolla said.
Bolla said public transportation often operates at a loss. Now the county, and its residents, would have to wait on the plan JTA draws up.
“I’m not aware of too many public transportation operations that make money,” Bolla said. “You’re always going to measure success based on how little you lose running it. Hopefully JTA will be able to figure this out better than we were able to.”
Interim County Manager Lorin Mock and Price said JTA’s transportation takeover and the transition of senior centers to Aging True has gone as well as expected a month in.
“Both agencies really stepped up to the plate,” Mock said. “I think we’ll see services gradually increasing.”