Transit Talk

Terry Kirchner, operations supervisor for Yankton Transit (left) and consultant Gary Hegland discuss transit needs in Yankton at a public meeting Thursday.

As part of its latest Coordination Plan, Yankton Transit opened up the discussion of transit needs, partnerships and local funding to the public in a meeting Thursday.

In order to receive certain types of federal funding, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requires transit entities to continuously work on a Coordination Plan.

“Coordination is a concept whereby people share resources to accomplish a similar goal,” said Gary Hegland, a consultant with Fargo-based GTH Transit Advisory, who is working with River Cities Public Transit on the new coordination plan. “So, rather than Yankton Transit having to pay all the costs, they can partner with certain agencies or (businesses) to cover the costs or some of the costs and supply resources.”

Transit is a federally subsidized program, not federally funded, he said.

“The intent is to leave the ownership of transit in the community, but the feds help finance the cost of operating transit,” Hegland said. “They do this at a pretty significant level. Capital expenditures are financed at a rate of 80 percent and they require a 20 percent local match, and the operating costs are 50/50.”

As part of that arrangement, the FTA expects transit agencies to work with other agencies in their communities and share resources, like equipment and finances, he said.

“But the reality is that human resource agencies don’t have a whole lot of resources to share,” Hegland said.

Yankton Transit has had to be innovative in its approach to funding.

According to Terry Kirchner, operations supervisor for Yankton Transit, the local organization does have some successful agreements with a number of the medical providers in town.

“We have been working with medical agencies: Avera, Yankton Medical Clinic, Horizon Health, Peloton Physical Therapy and Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health,” Kirchner said. “We have agreements with all of those agencies that they pay for their clients’ rides to their clinics.”

On average, about 86 percent of Yankton Transit’s rides are for medical appointments, he said.

“Some of the things that we are improving on in the shop are our busses. A lot of (vehicles in) our fleet are 2003s. Now, we are going to get two busses that one of our employees donated for,” Kirchner said.

A Yankton Transit employee recently donated the required 20 percent matching funds to get 80 percent federal funding for two new busses, he said.

“The cost of an average Yankton Transit bus ranges between $15,000 and $20,000 that we have to come up with,” Kirchner said.

“The bus itself costs from $60,000-$75,000, depending on what you put in them,” Hegland added.

“We also got approved last year for a $350,000 grant to add on to our building and to update our facilities,” Kirchner said. “We are in the process of trying to do all the paperwork to add on and get everything updated, to maybe break ground in the spring.”

Grants are a large part of funding transit but most require matching local funds. Also, some grants’ unused moneys expire after a three-year period, Hegland said.

“Yankton Transit has been in a very tight situation, getting very little support from the city and very little support from the county,” Hegland said. “We are really struggling to come up with the match for our operations and getting busses and (equipment).”

A recent fare increase did help matters and did not affect ridership, he added.

“Most of the people that ride transit are people with disabilities, low income, seniors or youth,” Hegland said. “We are serving a population that does not have a lot of money. We want to provide transit at a very low cost, and, at the same time, pay all our bills.”

The biggest need for Yankton Transit is financing for the 20 percent that the federal budget doesn’t subsidize, he said.

“This is the first year Yankton Transit is going to break even,” Hegland said. “River Cities has been financing Yankton Transit a little bit to get them over the hill, so to speak, in hopes that, sometime in the future, we will get the money back.”

But Yankton Transit is still growing.

“When I first started here in 2015, we gave about 300-350 rides a day. Last year, we were shooting 400-450 a day,” Kirchner said. “Even with the school district doing in-town bussing last year, it didn’t take any ridership off of us.”

He clarified that, though some middle and high school students are riding the in-town school busses, the elementary and pre-k ridership is increasing.

“Yankton Transit’s budget is around $650,000 year, so they have to come up with over $200,000 a year of local matching funds,” Hegland said. “Coming up with that local match has been a struggle.”

Recently, the city and United Way have increased their donations to transit, he said.

“We are doing the best we can to make ends meet and things are moving in the right direction,” Hegland said.

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