Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

August 16, 2013

Taxi service abruptly ceases

GOSHEN — Yellow Cab of Elkhart County abruptly ended its Heart City Rider and Goshen Transit Service operations Thursday afternoon, citing the lack of adequate funding.

The taxi services, which utilized a fleet of 15 vans provided by the Michiana Area Council of Governments, provided around-the-clock services each day to handicapped riders, as well as the general public.

MACOG executive Sandra Seanor said Thursday she learned about the end of the service at the same time as the media did. She said her staff scrambled Thursday afternoon to find an alternative provider to Yellow Cab and she believes that will occur beginning Monday.

“We have contacted another vendor who is able and willing to provide services for us beginning Monday, for ADA clients only,” Seanor said.

ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires communities to provide public transportation to the handicapped. Federal, state and local funding for the service is directed to the Michiana Area Council of Governments, which is the regional planning agency that handles transportation planning. In turn MACOG contracts with a private company to provide dispatching and drivers and leases MACOG’s fleet of 15 vans with wheelchair lifts.

“I feel really bad for all the people who are left without transportation now, as well as the drivers. I was only able to give them a partial check,” said Kerry Clear, owner of Yellow Cab, which is based in Mishawaka.

He said he was losing money on the service and had to end the service to protect his company.

He said part of the profitability problem was the vans get just 12 to 13 miles per gallon of fuel. He said most weeks the service brought in $8,000 to $9,000 and the cost of gasoline was $3,000 to $4,000. Payroll for drivers was about $3,500 and he had to pay his dispatchers as well. But the expense that put him over budget was insurance for the vans, Clear said.

“We haven’t paid our payroll taxes since the program started,” he said of the cash-flow strain.

Yellow Cab began operating the service in January and he asked MACOG for a fair increase last spring. MACOG granted a temporary increase, which ended in June.

Seanor said the minimum fair for the service was $7, with the rider paying $1.80 of that and MACOG paying the rest. The temporary fair hike boosted the minimum fair to $9, according to Clear.

“Even the temporary increase they put on, it wasn’t enough to cover the expenses,” Clear said. “But at least it stopped the bleeding.”

Seanor said MACOG simply could not afford to make the temporary hike permanent.

“We don’t have it,” Seanor said of the cash needed.

The service provides 75,000 to 80,000 rides per year, according to Seanor.

She said MACOG also is required to provide the fixed route trolley service in Elkhart and Goshen, which eats into the agency’s funding.

“If it (the combined van and trolley service) gets beyond a certain cost, it becomes prohibitive for us to do,” she said.

Now that Yellow Cab has stepped away from the van services, Seanor said MACOG will concentrate on providing the minimum service under ADA. That means MACOG staff will handle dispatching and the new service provider will provide rides to ADA card clients only. But those rides will have to be booked 24 hours in advance.

“We are going to do the very best we can to make sure we are providing services to our ADA clients,” Seanor said.

Coni Walters of Goshen uses the van services and was surprised to hear about their suspension Thursday.

“I am absolutely shocked,” Walters said. “They didn’t give us any heads up. I feel like people with disabilities in this society are marginalized.”

But she is also hopeful.

“I am going to be praying that this is resolved so that all people with disabilities have that freedom of choice (to go where they need to go,)” she said.

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