Homer public transportation slow, but project still rolling

A plan to bring public transportation to Homer remains in the works, with a Chrysler handicap accessible van in Kenai and ready to roll sometime in the near future. 

However, due to some contract requirements, getting vouchers printed and other details, the rubber has not yet quite met the road for the Central Area Rural Transit System, or CARTS.

“It’s taken more time than anybody has anticipated,” said Joyanna Geisler, director of the Independent Living Center, one of the agencies working to get CARTS in Homer going. “Do I think it’s going to happen? Absolutely. Will there be some glitches along the way? Probably. But it’s going to happen.”

The plan works like a subsidized taxi program. A local taxi company gets a van and runs it as part of its fleet. Social service agencies, many of whom already provide vouchers for clients, would purchase vouchers to use for rides on CARTS vans. 

The general public also could buy at a discount a limited number of vouchers in $1, $5, $10 and $20 denominations to use just like money with participating taxi companies. Funding from the Federal Transportation Administration was used to purchase the vans and to support the voucher program.

The plan looked ready to go last April, with the vans on order and final details to be taken care of. Two Homer companies, Kostas Cab and KacheCab, had initially signed up to get the CARTS vans and be in the program.

KacheCab, however, bowed out after the Federal Transportation Administration regulations became too cumbersome for his company, said KacheCab owner Chris Fischer.

“The real question is ‘Do you guys want to be subcontractors of the federal government?’” Fischer said of the CARTS program. “I have come to the conclusion my company is not a good fit with being a federal contractor.”

Kostas Cab remains in the program, said owner Josh Cooper. Cooper set up a separate company, Ryder Transportation — named after his son — to run the CARTS van. He had signed up for two vans, but Jennifer Beckmann, director of CARTS in Kenai, said he will now only get one.

With a handicap accessible van in his fleet, he’ll be able to meet the needs of people with mobility issues that can’t already be met with other taxi cabs. Fischer said he’s also bought a handicap accessible van and was trying to line up insurance.

Both Kostas Cab and KacheCab already help some riders in wheelchairs, with walkers and with other mobility challenges, a service Geisler praised.

“We have really good relationships already with both KacheCab and Kostas,” she said. “These guys are probably the best cab drivers that have ever been in Homer. They’re community minded. They’re service oriented.”

Beckmann acknowledged the delay in getting CARTS going in Homer.

“There’s lots of i’s that need to be dotted and t’s that needed to be crossed,” she said. “Sometimes when you’re dealing with federal funds and stuff, everything doesn’t go as quickly as you’d like it to go.”

Part of the delay is in getting the vouchers printed on specialty paper that can’t easily be counterfeited. Beckmann also is working with agencies to participate in CARTS. Agencies that don’t already receive FTA funding can work with CARTS to leverage their money to get a match from the FTA. The FTA money can’t be spent without a match from at least some social service agencies. Another glitch is finding an agency to sell the vouchers. The Independent Living Center will initially be the vendor, but doesn’t want to make a long-term commitment.

Beckmann also pointed out the program is an experiment. How many people would actually use it? When? Where would people need to go? All of that can be predicted, but the actual need won’t be known until riders start using it.

“We always have to keep in mind it could turn out to be a colossal failure, but that should never stop us from trying, and trying again if it does fail,” Beckmann said.

Geisler didn’t want to predict when the CARTS van would arrive.

“This has taken me a lot of patience to be patient with the whole thing,” she said. “It’s taken an incredibly long lead time.”

“Everyone got into this with the best of intentions,” Fischer said. “It turned out to be far more complicated than everybody in Homer thought it would be.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.