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Growing Pains For SEATS Bus Service
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (FOX28/CBS2) - As Logan Nash pulls his bus away from the front of the VA Hospital in Iowa City the conversation with his passengers sounds more like a family trip. Max, a Vietnam Veteran leaving an appointment at the hospital in his wheelchair and Jennifer already on board with her cane from an earlier meeting are comfortably secured, chatting away as they head for two different destinations on a SEATS Paratransit bus. The large white shuttles are a common link for well over one thousand elderly and disabled people in Johnson County who rely on SEATS to provide door to door service for those who qualify. As Logan pulls up to Jennifers apartment he carefully helps her to the lift, lowers it and takes her by the arm to walk her the few steps to the front door and wishes her a good day.
Some Medicare patients can use the bus service for free, others are charged just two dollars. In a punishing winter of constant snow and cold its little wonder SEATS is growing in popularity, but the number of passengers is actually soaring to the point its taking a toll. Ridership jumped an average of 10,000 additional trips each year, for the last three years. Just last year that meant a total of 133,000 individual trips for the bus system and director Tom Brase says thats crating a challenge, Right now, 16 of our 24 vehicles are past their expected life .. and expected life is four years and 120,000 miles. In the perfect world we could replace many and add a couple new buses.
Replacing the fleet provided by Iowa City, Coralville and The East Central Iowa Council of Governments would cost more than $100-Million according to Brase, but this week there is some good news for passengers who would be home-bound without the service. Director of Iowa City Transportation Services, Chris OBrien says federal money is now available to replace four of the aging busses and budgeting should allow expanding service with two additional busses. He says all six should be on the streets by Fall. As Nash says goodbye to Max and pulls away from a senior center he says the transportation option is so critical to passengers in so many ways, I enjoy seeing them out. I appreciate helping them it makes their day and it makes my day and almost every day you hear people saying what would I do without this service.
Brase echoes that thought saying the feedback just validates their efforts to help, 98 percent of the comments we get are about how they appreciate the service, appreciate the drivers, how they need the services to get around and how important it is to them. As the population in the corridor ages, there become more people who dont or shouldnt drive and more people move closer to medical services at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics its a trend in demand and challenges that directors at SEATS dont expect to see change anytime soon.