Transportation issue needs more study

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, February 13, 2013

GATESVILLE – A plan for Gates County Inter-Regional Transportation System (GITS) to provide transportation to another county bears further study.

That’s the message the Gates County Board of Commissioners have sent to GITS Director Patrice Lassiter and Hertford County officials, saying they need more time to research this possible partnership, especially from a cost-efficiency standpoint.

Lassiter brought the issue before the Gates County Commissioners, saying she had been contacted by the Hertford County Department of Social Services who asked to purchase transportation services from GITS.

“This request has been approved by our (GITS) Advisory Board and I’ve talked to the county manager about it, but I wanted to bring this before you (the commissioners),” Lassiter said. “Please note that anytime we provide transportation services, we accept liability for the clients. We have insurance, but I wanted to make sure you are interested in this request from Hertford County before we proceed in working out the other details.”

Lassiter said the request was based on the fact that Hertford County’s other public transportation carrier – Choanoke Public Transportation Authority (CPTA) based in Rich Square – is structured a bit differently than GITS.

“They (CPTA) only provide transportation in the counties they serve,” Lassiter explained. “With us, we can go to Suffolk, Norfolk and Greenville and other places. CPTA doesn’t make those trips. With the new Medicaid policy, you have to provide minimum standards. That’s why Hertford County had to seek another (transportation) vendor. The seats they’re asking are generally not full for out-of-region trips. The vehicles we have that are full of clients are generally making trips to Ahoskie and Elizabeth City.”

Henry Jordan, Chairman of the Gates County Commissioners, asked Lassiter if the insurance coverage (for GITS) specify unlimited travel. Lassiter said it does not.

“Hertford County would be under our service plan. By adding their clients, it would lower the costs of our clients,” she stated.

By adding Hertford County to GITS service, Commissioner Johnny Hora noted the use of GITS vehicles would increase, thus increasing the number using the service. However, that would also drive up the operational costs.

Commissioner Linda Hofler asked if a client in Hertford County wanted to go to Norfolk, “Would we have to send a van to Hertford County and then backtrack (northward) to Norfolk.”

“Yes,” Lassiter replied.

Commissioner Jack Owens said he had jotted down quite a few notes while reading over the contract.

“The (fiscal year) contract with Hertford County calls for them to pay $28,658. How does that work,” Owens inquired.

“We charge $1.25 per mile, so that amount represents how many miles they (Hertford County) can get (during the length of the contract),” Lassiter answered.

“Are we charging them the exact rate we would charge for a Gates County citizen,” asked Owens, to which he received a “yes” answer from Lassiter.

Gates County Manager Jon Mendenhall said he had looked over the proposed contract with Hertford County and saw some issues that could be improved upon.

Owens said this was not a money-making venture for Gates County.

“This places more wear and tear on our vehicles,” he said. “Plus, we have a Hertford County client that wants to go to Norfolk. We send a van and that person is a no show. The contract says we cannot bill for that no show. So then our vehicle comes back to Gates County and waits for the next call and we spent for that fuel.”

“We typically go to Hertford County in the mornings and drop off our clients,” Lassiter noted. “Ideally, that vehicle will pick-up Hertford County clients and take them where they need to go. There could be instances where that cannot happen because there’s not enough time.”

Hora asked if this places any strain on GITS personnel from a logistics standpoint.

“Our personnel will definitely have to learn more about Hertford County,” Lassiter said.

Owens also expressed concern over the transportation grant funds Gates County receives from state/federal sources…if providing services to those who are not Gates County citizens would have any impact on those grants.

“What the state is pushing is regionalized transportation,” Lassiter noted. “From a state grant standpoint, it will look good for us to be providing transportation to Hertford County. The dollars are state and federal. They feel they are getting more bang for their buck with those dollars.”

Hora asked if the miles logged by a GITS van were passenger miles or trip miles?

Lassiter said it’s $1.25 per mile per trip…not $1.25 per mile per passenger. If there are three passengers, they share in one-third of the $1.25 per mile.

“What timeframe are you looking at with putting this contract in motion,” Owens asked.

“They (Hertford County) want it now,” Lassiter replied. “If you approve it today, some of the issues Mr. Mendenhall has can still be negotiated. What we’re asking of the commissioners is do you want us to pursue this contract?”

Owens asked Mendenhall if he had enough information to make a recommendation to the board.

“It is a complicated contract,” Mendenhall said. “There are issues with utilization. The short answer is this needs to be further analyzed to make sure we are staying true to our mission with our transit folks and we’re not going off scope in that regard. I would feel more comfortable if we could have additional conversation with our folks and the ones in Hertford County to make sure we are protecting the best interests of our primary clients, the citizens of Gates County. If it’s possible, we can provide this service, but not before exhausting all our evaluation options. I would recommend tabling this.”

“I’m thinking the same way,” said Hora. “It does give us a source of added revenue, but we need to evaluate our operating costs per mile vs. that added revenue. This needs further analysis.”

Owens motioned to table the issue to give the county manager more time to research. Hora offered a second and the motion passed without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal