Testimony for Senate Appropriations Committee January 23, 2019
Good morning. I’m Dorothy Yeager, the Executive Director of OATS Transit. I’m sure many of you have seen the OATS bus out and about in your districts. But, did you know OATS is one of the largest and oldest transit systems of its kind in the nation? We’ve been serving Missouri since 1971 and currently provide transportation in 87 counties. We employ 636 drivers and operate a fleet of over 800 vehicles. Last year, OATS buses travelled 15 million miles in the state providing over 1.5 million one way trips. People rely on the OATS bus to get to work, to their doctors, the grocery store, the pharmacy, senior center, sheltered workshops and anywhere else they need to go. However, the lack of Missouri support really impacts our ability to serve these residents or weather federal government shutdowns like we have today.
It is imperative the topic of transit investment be a priority this legislative session.
Transit systems across the nation receive approximately 40 percent of their annual operating budgets from their respective states. This is not the case in Missouri. For more than a decade, the state legislature has continued to slash funding to an all-time low, with $1.7 million split among 34 transit providers last year. Many local transit providers now get less than one percent of their annual operating budgets from the state. Because of this lack of state support, we at OATS had to cut service 15% this week this past week and will continue to have to cut back as the federal shutdown continues because of the lack of state support to fill the gap.
To bridge the gap on a good day, transit providers rely on federal dollars and seek creative means to secure resources, but the persistent lack of funds has resulted in service cuts and fare hikes in various communities. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, some of these counties are not served very frequently with some of our more rural service areas getting only one or two trips a month. If you are dependent on transit to get to the doctors or to get your groceries that is not enough. And it certainly doesn’t help someone who might need daily service to get to work.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about transportation during the 30 years I have been involved in its delivery it’s this – no one single source will ever have enough money to serve all the people who need service. I know that and I never come to the legislature asking for you to fully fund transit.
I do ask, however, that you be a partner. It takes multiple sources to keep the buses running – local, federal, state and the riders themselves through donations or fares – if everyone pitches in, then we can build on the unique transit infrastructure we already have in place.
The need for public transit in rural areas was identified way back in 1971 and Missouri led the way in developing the solution. I ask you to keep moving forward.
Executive Director of OATS, Past-President of Missouri Public Transit Association