Sioux Falls considers budget that reduces paratransit service - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Sioux Falls considers transit budget that would reduce paratransit service area

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The Sioux Falls City Council is in the process of budget hearing for 2014, planning how to spread out the city's $386 million budget. 

Sioux Falls public transit system is one area the mayor's office has proposed some future cuts and changes to help create a more sustainable system. 

The Sioux Area Metro consists of two different services, a fixed route with bus service for the general public and a paratransit service that does door-to-door pick ups for physically impaired residents throughout the city. 

The fixed route busses saw more than a million rides in 2012, with the paratransit service delivering just less than 150,000 rider in the same year. 

Although only about 10 percent of Sioux Area Metro riders use the paratransit service, it accounts for 45 percent of the entire transit budget to operate. It costs about $4 per rider on the fixed bus schedule, but about $25 for one rider on the paratransit service. 

It's why the mayor is proposing a future reduction of the paratransit service areas, which could save the city more than half a million dollars. 

"It's just a higher labor intensive effort to do the paratransit service, but there's a large population in our community that rely on that service to get around town. I think what you're going to see on the city council is we're going to be trying to weigh out how important it is for individuals to have that service available to them," said Sioux Falls City Council member Greg Jamison. 

The change would likely go unnoticed by many Sioux Falls residents, but if would be life changing for those who depend on the service for their daily needs. 

The 2012 Citizen's Survey in Sioux Falls shows one percent of residents surveyed use public transportation for their daily work commute—it's why the central bus station is unknown territory for many in the city.  But for others, waiting on a bus is part of a daily routine. 

"For about nine years now...I use it to go to work and then come back into work," said long time bus rider Jeff Wagenaar. 

"I can't drive, I was born with epilepsy, and you have to go six years with no seizures before you can get the drivers license," said Scott Comp. 

"Five days a week to kidney dialysis, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday ...and that looks like it might be my ride," said paratransit rider LeRoy Leffler. 

Leffler depends on the paratransit bus for things like doctor's appointments and groceries. 

"I don't even have a car…I have a motorized wheelchair to get around," said Leffler. 

Like others who depend on the paratransit pick-up, the idea of losing the service is more than a little scary. 

"They probably would be in trouble with out the paratransit; it is a definite necessity," said Leffler. 

The city council is carefully considering the mayor's proposal to reduce paratransit service areas with other demands in the city's budget.

"As our economy grows and our community grows, as our city grows and service expands, it takes more money to do some of these things and we just need to figure out how to make it all work together," said Councilor Jamison. 

Filling more seats on the fixed schedule bus service is one way to make the transit system more efficient. 

"We're trying to educate people and get more people to ride the bus, get more cars off the road, that's a good thing," said Jamison. 

"I tell everybody at work, take the bus," said Wagenaar. 

The Mayor's 2014 transit plan does include an expansion of several core bus routes in the fixed schedule system.

As for the paratransit cuts, Councilor Jamison says he believes the council will try to maintain the current level of service, but they will likely have to decide other areas or services in the overall city budget to cut back.   

While the City of Sioux Falls has an extensive reserve budget, most city officials are not willing to risk the city's emergency reserves in order to extend the budget.

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