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040218-nws-transit-need-1

Nicole Stradinger, front, sits with her parents, Sheryl and Dave, and her sister, Heather, in their home in northeast of Bismarck. Nicole recently lost her paratransit services provided by Bis-Man Transit. The family now must provide transportation for Nicole, a wheelchair user, to attend her numerous medical appointments and outings.

Bis-Man Transit has been working to put the system in a sound financial situation. Unfortunately, transit changes have left some residents with disabilities without service.

This needs to be corrected. To the transit’s credit it is trying to find a solution which up to now has been elusive. Some of the residents who no longer have rides have been longtime users of the service.

Steve Heydt, president of the Bis-Man Transit Board, said the Federal Transit Administration was contacted about grandfathering in some of the longtime users who lost services. The FTA told the board extending service on a case-by-case basis would leave the city and the Transit Board liable to extend it to any who requested it and could result in a loss of the federal funding for operations. The board formed a committee and charged it with finding answers.

The board made changes in service to stabilize the system. Some riders lost service because they live outside city boundaries and others are complaining about long wait times that make them late for work.

Bismarck-Mandan has struggled over the years to provide transit service. The two cities didn’t have daily bus service for many years. For a long time the area didn’t have enough riders to support the service. There’s no doubt a segment of our society counts on the transit service. They need it to get to jobs, go shopping, make medical appointments and, on occasion, go out for entertainment. Not everyone can afford to be mobile or have the ability to drive. They want to live productive lives, but they need some assistance along the way.

In Monday’s Tribune, reporters Jessica Holdman and Blair Emerson profiled some of the riders who lost service. A few count on relatives or others to get them to work and home. At least one had to give up volunteering because rides are no longer available. This isn’t a large number of people, but that doesn’t justify leaving them stranded. When Bismarck lost its men’s homeless shelter last fall, volunteers and groups worked to find a solution. The Tribune Editorial Board said at the time that the community has a responsibility to help those who are vulnerable or in need. We believe the same holds true for the transit issue.

It’s possible another provider can be found to serve this group. That will involve solving funding issues that come with any service. Maybe Bis-Man Transit can consider going back to its old boundaries. These are just two possibilities for the committee to consider. The Tribune realizes this problem isn’t an easy one to solve. The committee has a difficult task ahead of them.

The community has shown, as with the homeless shelter issue, that it can work to find solutions. Residents must work together to resolve this latest challenge.

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