Last updated: August 27. 2013 3:52PM - 159 Views

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They said it would be a challenge, that it couldn’t be done. But 14 years later, The Bus, Sedalia’s public transportation system, is still making the rounds.

More than a decade ago community and business leaders, along with social service agencies and representatives from OATS, Inc., met to discuss the growing needs for a public transport system in town.

“At the time our last taxi service had just gone out of business and OATS was booked solid doing door-to-door services,” said Elle Duggan, who worked with RSVP at the time and helped get the project off the ground. “I was getting a lot of calls from senior citizens and others saying they needed rides to the store, not just the medical rides we could offer them. So Pettis County Community Partnership invited a group of people to brainstorm about what could be done.”

Through donations and grants, The Bus and its fixed route system was started. Duggan said the original plan offered a route that covered, for the most part, all the major stops in town — the hospital, parks, major shopping areas and senior housing, to name a few. The problem, she added, was that Sedalia kept growing, but the route didn’t. To celebrate The Bus’ 14th anniversary, which is today, OATS is proposing a complete overhaul of its routing system that will feature transfer service, a cut down on wait times and increased service to Sedalia’s outlying areas.

The new routes will include three loops — one serving the northwest area of town and Walmart, another for north of 16th Street and west of Limit Avenue, and a third for south of 16th Street and east of Limit Avenue. All three will meet in the State Fair Shopping Center near Kmart and riders will be able to transfer busses.

“The new loops will allow us to serve more customers,” said OATS Midwest Region Area Manager Steve Bush. “Right now we’re looking at an average of 1,100 riders per month and sometimes we’ve had to turn people away because they are no seats left. By adding a second bus and changing from a one-hour loop to several 30-minute loops, we can decrease the amount of time someone has to wait.”

The new routes will also be expanded to include Sunset Village, Elm Hills, Sunrise Village and Boonville trailer parks, Smith-Cotton High School, Walgreens, Aldi’s, the Bothwell Healing Arts Center on West 10th Street, and Menard’s, Bush said.

“Before we had people calling from Sunset Village for example, for direct pickup. But they had to call a day ahead and there were certain times of the day we just couldn’t get out there because we were too busy,” he said. “But now that they’ll be on the regular route, we can cut down on the direct pickup time.”

Bush said the routes weren’t finalized yet, they will be officially decided on during a regular transportation meeting at the end of the month, but said the proposals were “extremely likely” to go through and will start around Memorial Day weekend. Bush said he would also like to see OATS create a punchcard that would allow riders to prepay for rides in advance.

“There would be different denominations — $10 or $20 or $40, depending on how much you ride — but it would allow you to just have the card instead of the $1.50 it costs to ride,” he said. “The Community Transportation Partnership liked the idea, but they wanted to allow for public comment during the meeting.”

Bush did note there would be added expense to increasing bus service, but the proposed changes would not effect fares.

“The $1.50 fare will stay $1.50,” he said. “A lot of times when a city wants to expand its bus service that has to be done so through a tax increase but we’ve found a way to use the revenue we have now, in addition to the potential advertising dollars we’ll get from the second bus, to make things work. It was a priority from the beginning that we wouldn’t raise rates to expand services.”

Duggan said she was proud to still see The Bus around town, noting that despite Sedalia being perceived as a car-heavy town, hundreds of people use The Bus and OATS every week. Bush agreed, saying all types ride The Bus.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have access to their own vehicle or a driver’s license,” he said. “Not to mention senior citizens or people who have their car in the shop. In the summer we average between 1,200 and 1,400 riders a week, so there’s a definite need here.”

“I’m always challenged when people say something can’t be done,” Duggan said. “And this proves, well, yes it can be done. It was really the work of a lot of people, working together to better the community and I’m very proud it’s still up and running. I think with the expanded services, we’ll be able to keep it around for another 14 years, at least.”

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