The people behind Putnam County’s sole public transportation system are preparing for drastic changes effective May 1.
Ride Solution, the small rural county’s nonprofit local transit, will be downsizing due to government funding cuts and changes made to the Medicaid bill passed in 2011.
The service provides Medicaid patients free transportation to medical appointments and to pick up prescriptions. Ride Solution also offers non-Medicaid patients with rides for only a dollar as part of Putnam’s public transportation system.
However, Ride Solution could shut down its 15 local bus stops due to budget cuts to the service’s funding, said Boyd Thompson, Director of Ride Solution Operations.
Thompson created the transit system with Putnam’s small transportation budget. He said he’s disappointed to hear 27 years of work could end.
“It’s difficult to see a program that has been proven to save the state money basically be chucked out the window,” Thompson said.
In a meeting held April 8, Thompson and other Putnam County officials agreed to send Tallahassee a resolution that could delay the changes.
Thompson said Ride Solution would lose about 90 percent of the Medicaid funding in the budget with the changes in place.
“It (the system) comes apart if the cuts are too deep,” he said.
Commission Chairman Chip Laibl said he believes the state made these changes without any thought to rural counties.
He called it ironic — the state took away a system that economically and socially benefits the state.
“They did this deal without any consideration for what has been built over the last 20 years,” Laibl said. ”They’re just going to squash it without any thought to those people who need it.”
While Medicaid recipients will still be able to get to appointments, locals who depend on the bus for daily transportation will have to find it elsewhere. Unfortunately, many can’t afford alternative transportation, Laibl said.
Ed Griffin, the local regional representative of the Florida Association of Coordinated Transportation Systems Inc., said rural and urban public transportation systems are very different from one another.
“The impact will primarily be on rural, smaller transportation systems,” he said. The urban systems are rooted deep in populous counties and can withstand changes to funding.
Laibl has already received phone calls from residents asking him how they are supposed to get to the grocery store without the transportation system. He does not have an answer.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to these people,” he said. ”It’s sad.”
State Sen. John Thrasher, R-Palatka, could not be reached for comment.
Although the resolution sent to Tallahassee might not be successful in delaying the system’s destruction, Thompson is not throwing in the towel.
He has urged the state to do some financial investigation on the matter in order for them to see what exactly the impact will be on rural counties like Putnam.
An innovative public transportation system like Ride Solution is an integral part of a rural county like Putnam, Laibl said, and the state has put it on a path of destruction.