Van service comes to a halt

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

The van stopped here on June 30.

Those who depended on the Fort Sumner Transit service to get to work, to the doctor’s office, to school, to the grocery store and to make other trips no longer have a ride.

The driver and dispatcher who operated the service in Tucumcari no longer have their jobs.

Cuts in a federally funded grant supporting transportation for low-income people meant the Fort Sumner Transit van service was cut in Quay and other New Mexico counties. The van’s last trip here was Friday, the end of the government’s fiscal year. On Monday, it was driven back to Fort Sumner to stay.

“It’s an incredible role they are fulfilling … 700 rides per month,” said Heidi Fenton, who asked Tucumcari city commissioners to assist in helping fund an alternative at their Thursday night meeting.

“Not everyone has a car,” said Fenton, noting there is no other similar form of public transportation in Tucumcari.
Fenton, center director for the Mental Health Resources and Alcoholism Services, said she was aware of the service because some of her clients used and depended on the van for transportation.

The 10-passenger Fort Sumner van was operated seven days a week in Tucumcari by the Fort Sumner Transit through a memorandum of understanding with the local housing authority. The Fort Sumner Transit lost four vans covering DeBaca, Guadalupe and Quay counties, said Paulene Finney, executive director of the Fort Sumner Housing Authority.

“We were caught by surprise,” she said.

Ironically, Dispatcher Eugene Kamphaug said, “We lost our jobs, and won an award.”

The award was recently presented to the Fort Sumner Transit for “Transit System of the Year” for 2005 for 5,316 job access and reverse commutes from the Transit and Rail Bureau of the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

Although the driver of the Tucumcari van, Dolores Quintana, has lost her job, she said, “I feel sorry for them. I’ve seen them walking and I can’t do anything.”

Kamphaug said, “Four miles to walk to work for a 60-year-old lady is not good. The cut hits the elderly the hardest, the poor or those who can’t drive for whatever reason. But people used it for any kind of appointment to go to work, to eat, to shop, to go to the doctor’s.”

Kamphaug said he is lucky, he has found another job with the road crew for DeBaca County.

Quintana, who worked as a driver for about a year, said she used to be a caregiver for the infirmed and may return to caregiving for her income.

Van clients had to meet minimum income requirements to use the service and paid 50 cents per ride. During June the van provided 792 one-way rides for clients, Kamphaug said.

The number of clients range from 30 to 130, and up to 332 additional people have used the van and may have called on the van services in the future, Kamphaug said.

Notice that the service would no longer be funded came on June 19, Quintana said.

Meanwhile, Fenton said the city, which did not take any action on the matter on Thursday, could assist in procuring another type of grant or service that would help those people who cannot afford a car or cannot drive because of a disability or other reason.

“I see it as an economic development issue because the van takes people to shop, to medical services and to work,” Fenton said.

There may be hope for another service in Tucumcari said Robert Pacheco, director of Tucumcari’s Housing Authority. It could come in the form of another type of DOT grant that provides a vehicle for a fixed route and is open to all who want to ride for a fee, he said.

That grant is estimated to be about $46,000. But a matching portion of the grant, estimated to be about $17,000, is needed.

Pacheco said the match might be mustered if various city and county agencies would pony up a portion.

Fenton said, “I think the city needs to step up. I think it’s an economic development issue. People use the van to go to church, to shop, to work. They use it in a variety of ways that help the businesses here. We forget that some people don’t have cars.”