SCUSA eyes fixed route for Albemarle
By Ritchie Starnes
Few local residents may realize Stanly County provides public transportation. Fewer realize the value of the service to residents or how SCUSA hopes to improve for the future.
Even its name, Stanly County Umbrella Services Agency, is as mysterious as the acronym cumbersome. However, SCUSA might be the county’s best kept secret unless you’re one of its frequent riders.
“It’s a steal for the taxpayers because we have public transportation for $215,000 a year,” said Candice Moffitt, SCUSA transit director.
The agency’s revenue and expenses vary year to year. For the past fiscal year, SCUSA had $1,012,465 in expenses. The majority of that sum, $797,197, was subsidized by grants and state and federal funds. Stanly taxpayers paid the difference, or $215,268, of the overall expense.
Whereas larger cities offer public transportation in the way of mass transit with bus service, rural areas like Stanly rely on a different version, Instead of a fleet of buses, SCUSA has a variety of 17 vehicles, including minivans, large vans (some with lifts for handicap accessibility), light transit vehicles and one large bus. Vehicles are assigned depending on routess and passenger needs.
For those without transportation for whatever reason, SCUSA affords them a reliable option. Many of the riders are economically challenged. Some are disabled. Others simply use SCUSA as an alternative because they do not have access to a vehicle.
SCUSA offers transportation by reservation for all needs, but medical and work-related appointments take precedent. The other trips are coordinated around those two.
“Typically, we build the daily schedule around those appointments,” Moffitt said.
“We also go out of county for the elderly and disabled for medical appointments,” she added.
Regular riders with set schedules are among subscribed users. They include employees and students that rely on SCUSA for transportation to work and school.
SCUSA contracts with the Department of Social Services for Medicaid transportation.
Senior Services for persons age 60 or over contracts with SCUSA to carry them to nutrition sites as well as medical appointments.
“SCUSA provides a very valuable service to our department and the seniors in the county,” said Becky Weemhoff, director of Stanly County Senior Services. “There are many seniors who cannot drive anymore due to health or financial reasons. They still need to go to medical appointments, to the grocery store and run other errands in order to still live as independently as possible at home.”
About 95 seniors depend on SCUSA each month. They account for 917 trips monthly, Weemhoff said.
Rides begin as early as 5:30 a.m. and go as late as 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
During the last fiscal year, SCUSA provided 46,799 trips. Of those riders, 25 percent were associated with Medicaid, 23 percent consisted of fares from the general public and the remaining 52 percent were part of contracted services other than Medicaid.
For example, one other contracted service included Gray Stone Day School. The charter school used SCUSA to help carry its middle school students during the construction of its middle school campus.
The total number of SCUSA trips has declined in recent years due to a more stabilized economy, Moffitt said.
Because the economy affects SCUSA, the service also lends a hand up during economic hardship. Some riders use the service to save money to buy a vehicle.
“It provides a means to an end for self-sufficiency,” Moffitt said.
Fares vary from $1.50 to $6.50 per person and per trip (a round trip counts as two trips), depending on the routes and distances.
Although the revenue from fares goes toward the cost of service, the fees pale in comparison to the actual costs.
For example, the cost with the transport of an elderly disabled rider averages $23.86 per trip. The cost for an average rider is $14.98 per trip. Employees using the service for a ride to work average $11.98, less because they typically live and work in town.
However, the goal is to make SCUSA trips as efficient as possible. Routes and trips are strategically coordinated to reduce costs.
Along with paying less toward the cost of a service, riders could soon realize another benefit. SCUSA officials are considering the addition of a fixed route among the most popular destinations in the city of Albemarle, consistent to how a bus route works in larger cities.
“I believe a deviated fixed route will give us an opportunity to serve more people,” Moffitt said.
Respondents of a survey among SCUSA riders suggested the demand for the route. The route would include popular retailers, shopping centers, library, NC Works, Stanly Community College, the courthouse and others.
“This is going to enhance the quality of life for people who don’t have transportation,” Moffitt said.
This route with specific stops, however, would have to be subsidized more by the city of Albemarle and Stanly County rather than state and federal resources.
The county’s seniors would benefit from the fixed route, Weemhoff said. It would expand the frequency of trips.
“I feel that the fixed route study that is being looked at now would certainly be beneficial to the seniors and the public as a whole in providing and meeting more transportation needs,” Weemhoff said.
Plans suggest this idea could be presented to the Albemarle City Council and Board of County Commissioners this spring.
Weekend SCUSA services could be the next possibility.
Contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 20 or email ritchie@stanlynews press.com.