Tri-County Transit Coordination in the Lake of the Ozarks

Author: Andrew Carpenter

Published: September 17, 2019

In the heart of Missouri, the Lake of the Ozarks is known for a place of summer respite and relaxation. However,  the lake’s shape creates significant transportation challenges for residents to get around the area. What’s more, vulnerable populations including older adults and people with disabilities often lack transportation in the surrounding Camden, Miller, and Morgan counties. In a survey conducted by the Camden County Developmental Disability Resources (CCDDR), 71% of its clients do not drive and are not capable of doing so themselves.

The significant level of need for transportation services also shows in the employment sector. Of 61 local employers in the Tri-County Area. 39 report losing up to 5 employees annually due to a lack of transportation, and 69 percent said employees would benefit from public transportation. 53% were willing to have a transportation stop at their facility.

The survey results provided impetus for a solution, with robust demand from both residents and employers. As a result, CCDDR and more than 20 partnering organizations collaborated to form a local task force, which evolved into a non-profit organization called the Lake of the Ozarks Transportation Council (LOTC). The partnership has a mission to “promote, develop, operate and/or fund mass transportation related facilities and/or programs in and around the Lake of the Ozarks region.”.

To fill the transportation gap for residents around the Lake,  LOTC partnered with OATS, the local transit provider, to launch a new bus route that connects multiple counties on the east side of the lake. LOTC’s members contribute to the local match to cover 50 percent of the operational cost, highlighting the possibilities of motivating local actors to invest in transit in their communities.

Though LOTC began its focus on employment transportation, its work with OATS shifted the focus to transportation for the general public because of the large number of older adults and people with disabilities that need to get around, and not necessarily for work. As a result, the organizations landed on a deviated route model to best accommodate workers and other riders in such a rural area. In the end, the investment in this transit route has resulted in a net benefit for the community as a whole:

  • Estimated Federal Medicaid Waiver Savings in Camden County - $115,500 in 2017, reflecting the cost to fund specialized NEMT, rather than transportation open to the general public. If the full potential of FTA funding would have been utilized for match funds in an expanded deviated and/or rural route system, there likely still would have been an estimated overall net savings of $10,500 in Federal funds.
  • Estimated State Medicaid Waiver Savings in Camden County - $16,500 in 2017 (no state cost for route)
  • Estimated CCDDR SB 40 Tax Savings - $29,000 in 2017 (re-invested in more public transit services for more clients)

To put these savings in perspective, the total cost for Medicaid Waiver transportation was an estimated $318,000 for approximately 90 CCDDR clients in 2015. That amount would have funded 3 buses running 8.33 hours per day, 7 days per week, all year long on a deviated route in Camden County, without FTA funding.

The example of Tri-County transit underscores the need to think creatively about funding transportation solutions Ed Thomas, the Director at CCDDR and co-architect for the Tri-County Transit route service, said that one of the keys to developing this solution has been to design the system with the needs of both employers and residents in mind. In this manner, the LOTC was able to identify and remove barriers to transportation access in the region. According to Thomas, the process of developing the Tri-County transit route revealed numerous ways of creating “more efficient systems exhibiting the full potential of tax-funded services and supports, including client-based or public transit systems.” With a broad coalition of community partners, the LOTC was able to share resources and customers, navigate funding and liability challenges, and gather public support. Looking ahead, Thomas believes that the “best solutions may require a realignment of funding across Federal and State departments to benefit the largest possible number of targeted end-users.” In this manner, Thomas reckons, “the best possible outcomes can then be achieved across all demographic groups needing the services.”

 

Ed Thomas, Director at CCDDR, contributed to this post.

Image Credit: OATS Transit

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