Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Transit service faces cuts

Published in the Current and the American Journal

A state cut in transportation funds for Medicaid patients could force several of the state’s social service transportation companies to close and would result in “dramatic cuts” to Cumberland County’s Regional Transportation Program.

A $600,000 cut in state funds proposed by Gov. John Baldacci would result in a further $1.2 million loss in matching federal funds, according to Jon McNulty, RTP’s executive director.

That loss would be spread across the state’s social service transportation agencies, but would be “a devastating blow” to all involved, he said.

“In some areas, they would simply go out of business,” McNulty said. That would leave people without a way to get to dialysis treatments, child care or work.

If the cuts – up to 60 percent of RTP’s funding – go through, RTP would need to lay off some of its 48 drivers. The agency now runs 260,000 trips per year, logging 3 million passenger-miles for 4,500 clients, McNulty said.

Though RTP wouldn’t close its doors, there would be reductions.

“We would have to make some dramatic cuts,” McNulty said.

In particular, the agency wouldn’t be able to afford volunteers, who pay for their own vehicles but are reimbursed 30 cents per mile. “Volunteers are very inexpensive by comparison” to maintenance of the agency’s own vehicles, McNulty said.

“We’ll survive,” he said. Primarily that is because of other programs RTP has in partnership with the city of Portland, and an arrangement in which the state Department of Transportation provides RTP’s vehicles.

McNulty questioned the wisdom of cutting spending that brings in additional federal funding to the state, and said there are “administrative ways” state officials could restore some of the loss, despite the approval of the state budget last week.