New county transportation system delayed 'a few weeks'

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Walker County's new countywide transportation service will be delayed by "a few weeks" due to continuing transition, which will leave some riders without service for a short time after Clastran ends its service today. 

Deidre Tatum, executive director of the Walker County Community Action Agency (WCCAA), said Tuesday only a few riders were using the current service, and that not many will be inconvenienced. She has already been talking to some of those people about the transition. 

"They understand," she said.

Tatum said while the plan had been to start on Oct. 1, officials now see that "a few weeks of transition" are still needed to complete details before the new system can start. That is due to several reasons, including various paperwork, the use of current vehicles by Clastran until the end of September, the set up of a new system for arranging trips and various other factors. 

She said that the agency will confirm more details about the service closer to time that it starts operation. 

The Walker County Commission in August voted to change the leadership of the countywide service from Clastran to the WCCAA, as well as to a "demand response" system that will include the rural areas of the county. Tatum and other officials approached the commission in July for approval to allow WACCA to now be the lead agency starting Oct. 1 for Fiscal 2021. A total of $72,100 had been committed to cover a need of $70,401 for local funding. 

The new budget for Fiscal 2021 was for $240,880, with $145,479 coming from federal sources, $70,401 coming from local sources, and $15,000 coming from another source, Fairbox, for use on the operational budget. 

The local amount would be broken down to $45,375 for the operational budget, $9,226 for the administrative budget and $15,800 for the capital budget. 

The City of Jasper committed $53,000, followed by $10,000 from the Walker Area Community Foundation. The Walker County Commission will give its current expenditure, $5,000 plus insurance for the buses. Sumiton committed to $2,000, while Cordova will give $2,100. 

Talking to the Walker County Commission in July, Tatum said, "We found out people need transportation to and from work. People need transportation for medical assistance," as well as to shop and for entertainment, she said. All age groups need such service.

"I just believe that doing a demand response, we won't just be running around and wasting gas, that we will be going to people who requested service," she said at the time. "They will have to pay a fee. The fee will be $2 one way per 5 miles. If you are going 10 miles, it would be $5." 

"If you need service, you would call the office. We would have to have 24-hour notice," she said. "We would schedule transportation for someone to pick you up in one of the vehicles and take you to your destination," Tatum said. 

The amounts would be calculated at the office when called and and the fee paid when the person is picked up, Tatum said. 

Tatum said she would like to follow the outlines of the St. Clair County transportation program, noting she recently visited Pell City to review their operations. The mileage there is similar to that in Walker County.

Paul Kennedy, executive director of the Walker Area Community Foundation, spoke in favor of the plan at the time. While he said the Jasper routes are alright currently, the system is "not serving the bulk of the county."   

Tatum said Tuesday that anyone with questions can call the WCCAA in Jasper.