By Steve Woodhouse
Representatives with the Heart of Iowa Regional Transportation Alliance (HIRTA) met with the Marion County Board of Supervisors this morning, and both sides seem to have an interest in letting HIRTA handle all public transportation in the county.
Iowa Code requires all counties to provide public transportation. The state was divided into different districts for this responsibility. HIRTA is one of these districts, which oversees seven counties, including Marion.
Since the Christian Opportunity Center in Pella (COC) discontinued its agreement with HIRTA to provide transportation to the Pella area last year, HIRTA has operated the public transportation for those residents directly. Meanwhile, in Knoxville and the rest of Marion County, HIRTA works with the Red Rock Area Community Action Program (RRACAP) to provide this service. HIRTA believes it could operate the public transportation system more efficiently if it directly controls the service, for the entire county.
One of the ways in which it could improve would be expanded hours of service. Currently, RRACAP runs from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. In other counties in which HIRTA operates, service has been expanded to the weekend.
"I think we can do a whole lot better job," Supervisor Craig Agan said.
Supervisor Mark Raymie was also concerned about HIRTA's policies with severe weather. As previously reported, Marion County Emergency Management and the Sheriff's Office were transporting dialysis patients to receive their treatment, due to heavy snow and the lack of buses running.
"We did not close down in Pella at all," Julia Castillo with HIRTA said. She added that HIRTA will make every effort to try to protect the public. She said HIRTA is not just a transportation agency, but a human service agency.
HIRTA receives funding from the state government, federal government and from Marion County. If funding levels were to drop at the state or federal level, HIRTA has a $40,000 reserve it could employ.
"The people that it would hurt would be the agencies we contact with," Castillo said.
Currently, Marion County pays RRACAP $3,000 a month for transportation services. The supervisors are in the budgeting cycle and that may change.
No formal action was taken regarding this discussion. A proposal from HIRTA is likely to come back before the supervisors. If the decision is made to end the agreement with RRACAP, the end date would likely be July 1, to coincide with the beginning of a new fiscal year.