The United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) transportation program is well-established in the region. In Redwood County, it has two dial-a-ride buses running regularly, with an established route in Redwood Falls.
According to Cathleen Amick, transportation director, the program has seen success, as its usage is on the rise. In 2016, UCAP transit provided 16,696 trips in Redwood County, and in 2017 that number increased to 20,844. In the larger service area, UCAP provided 211,068 trips in 2016, with 253,536 provided in 2017.
Amick, who talked about the UCAP transportation program with the Redwood County board at its meeting Aug. 21, said while the program is seeing success it needs to look to the future.
In fact, the UCAP transportation program is required by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to develop a five-year plan, and Amick said one of the things it is looking at is its fare structure.
Amick said in the long term the program continues to look at its needs, adding that means replacing buses and ensuring it has enough drivers to get people the rides they need.
To that end, Amick is looking to have a fare structure study conducted, adding she believes much of the funding for that study would be allocated to UCAP by the state transportation department. The outcomes from that study, whether it meant an increase in the rates or the offering of an automated fare collection option, would be considered.
A match would be required, and Amick said that might mean a request would be made to counties to help cover what is not funded by the state.
Costs continue to increase, said Amick, adding if the plan does proceed, a final decision would not be made without going through a process that would include input from leaders in each of the counties it serves, as well as from the public, especially those who utilize the transit program.
“We have not seen an increase in the fares since 2001-2002,” sad Amick.
A change in the fare structure could also include offering incentives for users, said Amick.
The reality, said Amick is that demand has outpaced what UCAP can currently provide, adding there are areas where the transit program is not serving the public in ensuring no one goes without a ride as well as it would like to.
She said in Redwood County alone last year there are about 400 trips requested that UCAP just could not provide. The need for drivers is also increasing, and finding people who can fill that role has become a challenge.
Amick said paying those drivers a fair rate for their work is important if they want to keep the drivers they have and find more.
No decisions regarding the fare structure have been made, said Amick, adding the bottom line is that the program needs to be affordable to those who use it, because in most cases they would not have a ride any other way.
An affordable transportation program is not only good for the users, but it helps to boost the economy, said Amick, as it provides options for people to get out and patronize more of what is offered in the community.
Bob VanHee, Redwood County commissioner, said he sees value in the transit program, adding it is “vital” to each of the counties where it is being offered.
“There are older people and people with disabilities who do not have their own cars,” said VanHee, adding this is a good program because it is meeting those needs.