Public Transportation

Critical service sees slow but steady growth

By Terri Nighswonger

"Public transportation – some of us use it but all of us need it.”

That’s the motto of the Missouri Public Transit Association (MPTA), established in 1980 to provide a unified voice for public and specialized transportation providers in Missouri and to work toward elevating the status of public transit as a priority. Thirty-five years later the organization continues to work to ensure transit has a voice in the state. MPTA transit provider members provide more than 67 million rides almost everywhere for everybody every day in Missouri, and they employ thousands in Missouri’s rural and urban communities.

According to Robert Lolley, transit coordinator in Joplin, the mission locally is much the same – to provide a critical service to those who need it most.

Joplin has provided a curb-to-curb prescheduled system called the Metro Area Public Transit System or (MAPS) since 1997. During that first year of service, MAPS provided 58,630 rides within the 105 square miles of service area. In 2016, rides totaled 136,772, a steady increase over the last 10 years.

The Sunshine Lamp Trolley, with three designated routes, was added in late 2007, providing a total of 103,282 rides in 2016.

 

                                                                                                                                      

“Both of them serve different areas of the population,” Lolley said. “But, overall, both primarily serve the elderly, the low income or perhaps even the disabled.”

The trolley can take a passenger anywhere from Schifferdecker to Duquesne, east and west, and north as far as Ozark Christian College and south to Mercy Hospital Joplin, with designated stops along the way.

“You can kind of see that by our statistics, especially for the trolley, we had general growth and then in 2011 we had the tornado. If you notice there is a huge spike in 2012 and that’s because cars were destroyed. People had no other way to go because they couldn’t just drive their car so they all got on public transportation.”

The MAPS service, because it is prescheduled, can take a passenger to a farther destination.

“We’re different than a lot of bigger cities that have public routes,” Lolley said. “We have a route system but we also offer deviations which means the bus is going to go around that route all day long and pick up at all the stops but you can also call if something happens – if you have difficulty reaching a stop you can reserve a ride, they’ll pick you up in front of your house and they’ll drop you off somewhere along the route.”

Those curb-to-curb rides can go to Webb City or Carl Junction but also fill up quickly.

“Most people are impressed when we say we schedule almost 200-250 rides a day and we only have six vehicles. It’s very difficult sometimes but we do our best,” Lolley said.

Joplin runs three trolley routes and has six MAPS vans that run daily. All vehicles are ADA accessible and can carry up to four wheelchairs. The services are also affordable. MAPS rides are $2 each way and the trolley is as low as .50 cents a ride or unlimited riding for $15 per month.

Routes can be found on the city website at joplinmo.org under departments/public works/public transportation.

Lolley believes that public transportation is a critical service.

“For the people that don’t have another alternative, don’t have a car available, the trolley is a lifeline,” Lolley said. “A lot of times we have family members call us and say ‘Hey mom and dad just can’t drive anymore. We don’t feel safe with them.’ We’re that opportunity that allows them to continue their life as close as they have in the past.”

Those who take advantage of public transportation come in cycles, Lolley said. Often the price of gas will affect the numbers.

“Overall, in general ours has continued to rise slowly over time,” Lolley said. “Our system, the way we have it now does a fantastic job of serving the people who we call transit dependent. They rely on public transportation to get where they are. The other people are what we call choice riders. They make the conscious choice to use public transportation. Sometimes it’s not as convenient for them.”

Lolley’s hope for the future is to someday expand the hours of service for the trolley.

“That’s a segment I think we could expand and really help more people to help increase the ridership. As we have year after year, it’s a slow, kind of a steady growth.”

                                 

For more information on Sunshine Lamp Trolley routes or for a pickup at a designated location, call 417-626-8609. 

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