County transportation guaranteed, but may not be by the Mini-Bus

Posted 8/26/99

“I can guarantee that there will be transportation service in Washington County,” Mary Rump, t…

By Mary Zielinski (free-lance)

“I can guarantee that there will be transportation service …

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County transportation guaranteed, but may not be by the Mini-Bus


“I can guarantee that there will be transportation service in Washington County,” Mary Rump, t…

By Mary Zielinski (free-lance)

“I can guarantee that there will be transportation service in Washington County,” Mary Rump, transportation planner with the East Central Iowa Council of government (ECICOG) told nearly 70 people at a special meeting in the Washington Public Library Thursday.

However, she could not guarantee if the service would continue to be provided by the Washington County Mini-Bus, the non-profit agency that has operated the service for a dozen years.

At issue is the question about the Mini-Bus’s discretionary trips and the possibility that such trips could constitute an illegal charter service.

Rump said that ECICOG became aware of the situation “a year to a year and a half ago,” explaining that the regular reports are about riders and mileage, not each trip.

Asked by the press how she had learned about it, Rump replied “You learn a lot by word of mouth.”

She then confirmed that the information had reached the administrative agency through an informant.

Both the ECIOG and the Mini-Bus boards have been discussing the issue, said Rump, which is why the contract with the Mini-Bus was extended to September 30, rather than renewed for the next fiscal year in June.

Rump said the contract had been prepared but she became concerned about the Mini-Bus’s incidental trips and “and would not recommend to the (ECICOG) board renewing the annual agreement with Mini-Bus” until the issues were reviewed and resolved.

She said that they were “serious enough” to have the entire ECICOG board review them. The board meets next week.

She stressed that service will continue in the county, and when asked if not with the Mini-Bus, with whom, noted that the contract could be put out to bid.

The issue deals with “special” trips (also referred to as discretionary or incidental) which is permitted, but cannot be counted in the regular rider, mileage service. Among the special service is meal delivery which “obviously does not involve riders.”

Up to 20 percent of the transportation service can involve incidental trips, Rump said. However, she explained that as ridership goes up, so does funding and vice versa.

She also said that there are times when trips are requested that “you have to say no.”

Mini-Bus Director Leonard Tindal said the service has operated on the premise if there is a transportation need, “we will meet it.” He added that all trips are publicized and open to the public and if “there are seats available, anyone has the right to take them.”

Much of the service has involved senior citizens and the disabled, although it is not specifically restricted to such use.

Some of the issue involves trips out of the county with Iowa City frequently mentioned. However, many of the Iowa City trips were for medical appointments.

Rump stressed that out of county trips for services not available in the county is not a problem.

During the 90 minute meeting, Tindal repeatedly stressed that “we (the Mini-Bus and ECICOG) can work together” to continue providing the county with a top service.

As for the disputed trips, Tindal said that they account for a very small percent, “about five percent: and are a “very small” part of the 150,000 annual trips made by the Mini-Bus.”

He also stressed that the “rules” are not the same for each region and that there should be one standard statewide.

He also said that the discretionary trips are an important “psychological benefit for seniors” who have no other way of going to something like a program at the Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids.

Rump said she did not know exactly how many such trips had taken place, but the recent fiscal 1999 statistics show that in July there was a minimum of 19.65 percent of trips that were incidentals.

She also explained that the service can divide into public and private services, keeping federal funds totally separate.

Acknowledging it is a “complex issue,” Rump said that if the Mini-Bus adheres to the service outline in the transit brochure, there is no problem. Going beyond that is open to question.

A number of those at the meeting were concerned with maintaining basic service, especially to local doctors and grocery stores.

They also asked if Rump could provide a summary of the rules and regulations, as well as the ECICOG role. Rump said she would.

The meeting was sponsored by the Washington County Council on Disability Rights and Education ((CDRE)) and the Evert Conner Center for Independent Living. The latter was represented by Chris O’Hanlon who also served as the program’s moderator.

Funding for the transportation service includes a combination of local, county, state and federal monies, the latter of which prohibits setting up a public service that competes with private, commercial bus companies, taxis or charter services.

Governmental funds are received by the Iowa Department of Transportation with distribution through regional transit authorities. For this area, that is the East Central Iowa Transit, set up in 1975, for Region 10 (Benton, Linn, Iowa, Johnson, Jones and Washington counties).

The administrative agency is ECICOG who awards contracts to the services, makes the funding applications, handles the financial and operating reports and purchases the equipment (vans, buses, etc.). For operating costs, then it is a combination of funds from the State Transit Assistance (STA), federal operating authorities, federal capital assistance, contracts for service (such as The Washington County Developmental Center and Orchard Hill) and local funds (city and county) and fare charges. But for capital revenues (equipment purchases) it is 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent local, said Rump.