Joint meeting airs public transit’s future

MOORE HAVEN — Glades County officials expressed their dependence and reliance on Hendry officials to take over as the Community Transportation Coordinator (CTC) for the region in July 2020. Hendry County Administrator Jennifer Davis assured them that the county will be looking for help from other organizations rather than try to do the whole job itself.

Members of the two county boards of commissioners had a vigorous roundtable meeting at the Glades County Regional Training Facility (GCRTF) Wednesday evening, Oct. 2. Other items of discussion included cooperation on libraries and housing, future plans for GCRTF, plus an optimistic update on Airglades Airport’s impending privatization.

“Everybody here knows everybody,” said Tim Stanley, Glades County Board chairman, so they dispensed with the usual introductions and went right into the presentations.

Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization Engagement and Mobility Manager Marybeth Soderstrom explained the Transportation Disadvantaged program. She distributed fliers listing some basic facts. Glades and Hendry counties are combined in a service area for this program; the current CTC is Good Wheels; and Hendry County has expressed a desire to take over after their contract expires, next July 1.

She said the intent of the programs is “to provide a transportation safety net.” They use local CTCs and advisory boards, she explained, to carry out those duties. Riders are “either under 18 or over 55, with an income under 200% of the poverty level or with a documented disability.”

Ms. Soderstrom said the CTC has been Good Wheels Transportation “essentially since the beginning of the program.” Their job is to provide these trips, and they apply for the financing through Florida and U.S. Department of Transportation grants and regular state programs.

She said more than 75% of the trips provided were in Hendry County, with fewer than 4,500 originating in Glades during 2017-18. If Hendry acts as the CTC, it will be eligible for the same and possibly more money as Good Wheels now receives. A “very overwhelming pie chart” described the sources of the money, but only 4 percent was “county cash.” She explained that on some grants, a strictly local match is required but for others, matching funds can be from federal or “other” sources.

Ms. Soderstrom said that since “Hendry County has expressed through a letter the interest in being the CTC, they would be taking on the service area for both counties. And that makes a lot of sense, so we need a business or action plan for what everything is going to look like.”

Mr. Stanley stated, “If you want to do this, we have to join with you because we can’t do this (on our own), so we have to rely on you … ‘Do you guys think you can handle this?’ is my biggest question.”

Hendry County Administrator Davis said: “We have to have a plan first. We’re looking at some other entities like Collier County that already do this. We’re not looking to bring all of this in house and be managing it all ourselves; we’re looking at perhaps doing an RFP (request for proposals) process to bring a partner in, and hopefully doing it more efficiently than what we are now. That’s our goal is to be able to provide a better service for less money.”

”I would like to see us try to put forth the effort to make some changes,” Hendry Commissioner Emma Byrd said, citing many calls she’s received from constituents saying they couldn’t get rides. Commissioner Karson Turner said maybe they should offer service only a few days a week but then noted there would be complaints, “And where does it stop?” when limits on service must be considered.

Mr. Stanley noted that it will take them a good year to find out whether Hendry’s running transit will be doable, will work and will cost less. Commissioner Donna Storter Long of Glades also was concerned that the plan has to lay out costs.

Ms. Soderstrom said it would be a challenge but that HRTPO will be helping at every step since it has responsibility.
Mr. Turner said, “We’re not prepared to do this … so there will be growing pains.”

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