Transit Funding in Missouri: The Deficit -vs- The Need

As one of the nation’s largest Rural Public Transportation Providers, and the second largest Rural Provider in the state of Missouri, SMTS began serving Missourians in 1973 with one vehicle and one driver in one county.  Today, SMTS operates a fleet of 200 vehicles, employees 200+ individuals and covers 21 counties.  In the last fiscal year, our vehicles traveled nearly 5 million miles, providing over 315,000 one-way trips within the state.  Missourians rely on public transit across our great state, and look to providers like SMTS, OATS, Ray County Transit, SERVE, Inc., Cape Transit Authority, Dunklin County Transit, Ripley County Transit, Scott County Transit and Mississippi County Transit and other city-based entities to meet these needs.  The demographic for these individuals is broad, as are their needs.  Weekly, we are relied upon to help our clients get to doctors, specialists, grocery stores, pharmacies, places of employment, sheltered workshops, nutrition centers, dialysis clinics, beauty shops and various other goods and services.  Many of these citizens are elderly or living with confirmed disabilities, while others are living at or below poverty level, but all have no other means of transportation.  This service is vital to their independence and wellbeing and adds value to our communities and their lives.

Missouri, as a state, is unique in the fact that EVERY SINGLE COUNTY has a Public Transportation Provider to assist Missourians with their transportation needs.  No other state in the union can boast this claim.  Yet, other transit systems across the nation receive approximately 40% of their annual operating budget dollars from state coffers.  Unfortunately, this is NOT the case in Missouri.  Over the course of the past decade, Missouri’s legislature has continually slashed state funding for public transit until it has reached an all-time low of a meager $1.7 Million.  This $1.7 million is then split among 34 transit providers state wide.  As a result, most of the state’s providers currently receive less than 1% of their annual operating funds from the state in which they operate.  This has to change. 

This lack of funding support has forced Missouri’s transit providers to rely heavily on federal dollars to support their operations, along with searching out other creative ways to secure funding dollars to continually meet the demands of the public.  Now, with the extended federal shutdown, SMTS, OATS and all other transit providers across the state who rely on these federal dollars to support their system will have no choice but to mandatorily reduce service in order to keep our vehicles on the road to meet the public needs.  If the shutdown continues, SMTS will be looking at a 10-20% reduction in service with even deeper cuts projected should the shutdown be prolonged.  Sad.

According to the Missouri Public Transit Association (MPTA), service cuts and fare hikes are being implemented all across the state.  These cuts are necessary in order to meet financial obligations associated with operating these vehicles.  Service cuts mean that individuals are being deprived of much needed visits to medical facilities, cannot do necessary shopping, cannot get to their places of employment and much more.  The absence of funding from the State of Missouri is a huge contributor to this demise.  We must promote awareness and impart upon our elected officials the importance and urgency at hand. 

I am in no way indicating that the State of Missouri is a sole source for funding these operations, but instead pleading that the State take a serious look at the positive impact Public Transportation has on a community, city, county and the state at large – it’s HUGE!  Statistics exist to substantiate that Public Transit helps to stimulate economic development, attracts business and enterprise, establishes healthier communities, connects individuals with employment thus reducing the unemployment rate, furthers equality and can, will and does build sustainable communities. 

I have had the distinct pleasure of being an advocate for Rural Public Transportation for the past thirteen years.  The baton was handed down to me from Mr. William Osborne, a pioneer in this movement.  It’s clear that no one source can possibly fund transportation in Missouri, but it is also evident that a greater investment and commitment needs to come from our state legislature going forward.  The infrastructure exists, the players are dedicated and committed, so I am here to ask that you, as our elected officials, consider the impact you can make in Missouri by supporting an increase in funding for Missouri’s Transit Systems.

Denny Ward
Executive Director
SMTS, Inc