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More Options Needed for Rural Public Transit

Rural areas need more options for public transit, and an expanded federal program might help.  Photo credit: Bill Davenport
Rural areas need more options for public transit, and an expanded federal program might help. Photo credit: Bill Davenport
April 5, 2013

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held in South Dakota last week focused on public transit needs, especially in rural areas.

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota chairs the committee, and was one of the sponsors of the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," or MAP-21, which expands funding for rural areas.

Sarah Jennings, state director of AARP-South Dakota, testified at the hearing and says seniors in rural areas now have few options.

"Getting around is something that we all need to do,” she says. “And once you can't drive anymore or you don't feel comfortable driving, we need to make sure everyone, whether you live in Sioux Falls or whether you live in Kadoka, has the option to get on public transportation to get where they need to go."

Under MAP-21, the formula for transportation funding would mean an increase for South Dakota of 48 percent to just under $5 million.

Jennings says one of the issues is that there is no coordinated public transit plan in the state.

"I think it's just a question of everyone getting together,” she says, “talking and figuring out the barriers that exist to having a coordinated system, and then getting rid of them and making this all happen.

“It's not going to be a quick fix or something that will happen overnight, but I do think the commitment is there from the right folks that we want this to happen and so I hope that means it will."

Jennings adds it has been an ongoing issue for AARP, and the organization wants to continue the push to a good solution.

"I think the next steps, really, are just getting folks talking to each other if they aren't already and if they are already talking to each other figuring out, 'Is the barrier funding? Is the barrier policy?' And once we identify the barriers, getting rid of them and hopefully making this happen one town or one area of the state at a time."

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD