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Sally Sherrin wants county officials to know the wheels are still turning at the Lancaster Area Ride Service (LARS).
As executive director of the Lancaster County Council on Aging, which operates the county-wide transportation service, Sherrin provided an update of LARS’ 2013 operations during council’s Monday, Feb. 10 meeting.
Her update is in advance of the upcoming round of federal grant funding that helps fund the service.
Based on statistics gathered during fiscal 2013, which ran from July 2012 through June 2013, Sherrin told council that LARS made on average 1,893 trips. Those trips include 57 unduplicated riders and 22,649 passenger miles.
The average total operational costs during that period were $26,870.48.
The report also showed that the average cost per trip is $14.19, which has remained steady for more than a year. The average operational cost per passenger mile during 2013 was $1.19, down significantly from the averages in 2012 ($1.62) and the service’s inception year ($2.33).
Sherrin noted that the average cost per individual who uses LARS is estimated at about $487.
With potential grants available beginning in March, Councilwoman Charlene McGriff asked if any dollars had been allocated to fund a local grant match if LARS was awarded federal or state funding. County Finance Director Veronica Thompson said more than $40,000 has been set aside.
When asked about previous grant funds, and how they’ve been used to support LARS, Sherrin pointed out two recent grants – from the Springs Foundation and the J. Marion Sims Foundation.
Using the funding from those two foundations, LARS was able to purchase two new Ford transport vehicles to boost its fleet, she said.
“We will put the two new vehicles into our fleet of 17 vehicles,” Sherrin said. “We’ll retire the other two, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to use them. We’ll use them to still deliver meals.”
As for the status of LARS’ activity within a series of urbanized pockets in the Panhandle, Sherrin said there are not many riders within those areas.
“The service required for people in urbanized areas is very low,” Sherrin said. “We only spend $1,000 in a fiscal year to service those people, so their requirements are very small.”
Sherrin was referencing a problem that started in July 2013, which impacts residents living in newly designated ‘urban clusters’ now sprinkled across Indian Land.
A surge in Panhandle population, as reflected in the 2010 Census, resulted in at least three Panhandle areas being designated as urbanized.
The largest of those areas is Sun City Carolina Lakes development, with a total of about 14,000 people. An urban cluster is designated as an area with a population between 2,500 and 49,999 residents.
The new designations meant LARS had to seek separate funding for those riders since urbanized areas do not qualify for rural highway funding through the Catawba Regional Council of Governments (COG), unlike the rest of Lancaster County. This funding must now go through a metropolitan planning organization.
In January 2013, Lancaster County Council approved joining the Rock Hill, Fort Mill Area Transportation Study (RFATS) which handles metropolitan planning for those areas.
The county must now coordinate with the North and South Carolina governments, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, to make sure Lancaster County’s urbanized areas are served by RFATS.
Question about riders
McGriff also asked Sherrin about the possibility of LARS accepting a new group of riders who need to travel to Rock Hill for assistance from another agency.
“I had an agency approach me for providing service from Lancaster to Rock Hill. It’s not medical, but has to do with Safe Passage services dealing with domestic violence cases,” McGriff said. “(The woman I spoke to) said LARS was unable to do that, but I thought we could. What’s the problem with providing rides to victims who’ve been abused so they can get to counseling?”
Sherrin said she was aware of the issue.
“We had a couple of concerns. First, we could not provide anonymity for people if they are going to a shelter,” Sherrin said.
McGriff interrupted and clarified that the request is not transporting victims to a shelter, but to provide rides for victims going through counseling.
“They would not be going to a shelter, just to counseling in an office,” McGriff said.
Sherrin said that was a more feasible option.
“Going to a counselor is a lot different and I’d love to reconsider it,” Sherrin said.
LARS kicked off its expansion into a county-wide public transportation system in December 2012.
When LARS started in 2009, it was established as a non-emergency medical transportation system, taking Lancaster County residents to appointments as far as Columbia. Sherrin said the service evolved to help those who have difficulty traveling to medical appointments.
The J. Marion Sims Foundation provided the initial grant money for LARS. But when that funding ended in 2012, council members considered a plan to fund the service and expand its focus. Now the S.C. Department of Transportation and Lancaster County are funding the system.
Council chairman Larry McCullough said Monday that the service is well-used in the county.
“I see LARS vehicles all over the county, and that’s a good thing,” McCullough said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416