Find ways to save SEATS

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: April 23 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 2:22 pm in
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The Gazette Editorial Board

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For 35 years, Johnson County SEATS has provided door-to-door transportation for Iowa City, Coralville, University Heights and North Liberty residents who, because of age or physical limitations, aren’t able to use fixed-route bus service.

It’s more than a good service: The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all cities with fixed transit systems to provide some sort of paratransit alternative. Cities in Johnson County have been able to meet that obligation by contracting with the county for SEATS.

The much-needed paratransit service has helped countless residents in those cities continue to live independently and enhanced their quality of life. But budget realities have led to talk of curtailing services.

That would negatively impact some of the county’s most vulnerable residents. We’d rather see city and county leaders look for other ways of funding the critical service — perhaps through partnerships with local non-profits.

Johnson County has traditionally funded SEATS through a tax levy. Supervisors say they can no longer afford to fund the service at its current level.

They have drafted a fiscal year 2014 budget that slashes funding for the SEATS in Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, from nearly $600,000 to $130,000. They’ve asked the city governments to help make up the difference.

City leaders have balked, citing the levy paid, in part, by their residents. Negotiations are ongoing. If cities don’t ante up, supervisors say, they will have to consider curtailing services.

At a forum this month, users said several of the suggested cost-saving ideas — such as raising rates, canceling Sunday service and replacing door-to-door pickup and drop-off with nearby curbside stops — would create hardships for many SEATS riders.

The cost of providing paratransit services almost certainly will continue to increase as Johnson County continues to grow and grow older. Rates may have to be adjusted.

But instead of shrinking services, we hope city and county leaders explore other potential long-term solutions that will maintain services while ensuring SEATS’ long-term sustainability.

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