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Pictured at a bus stop east of the Center for People in Need are (from left) Ralph Haydon, Citizens For Improved Transit (CFIT); Beatty Brasch, executive director of the Center for People in Need; and Richard Schmeling, CFIT president.

Good news for a segment of the population that rarely hears an encouraging word: A $20,000 grant has been approved that will allow the purchase of 2,500 bus passes.

The welcomed relief will put StarTran passes in the hands of clients served by approximately 20 human service agencies in Lincoln. It’s a huge breakthrough for those who live in a world where even an $8 monthly low-income pass can be prohibitive.

“We’ve been notified by the Lincoln Community Foundation that our grant request for funds to buy StarTran passes and distribute them to social services agencies has been approved,” Citizens For Improved Transit (CFIT) President Richard Schmeling told the Neighborhood Extra last week.

The grant application was the first of its kind by CFIT and was made possible with the help of Jean Stilwell, a grant writer provided by the Center for People in Need.

“Transportation problems represent a barrier to many deserving people needing services to get along in life,” said Schmeling, a vocal proponent of bus ridership and avid bus rider.

Scratching the surface

While the grant creates hope for needy residents, the number of passes funded by the grant is less than 20% of what is needed. Citing a survey of more than 20 local agencies, Schmeling said the poll found the annual need is roughly 14,000 passes.

“This is great news for folks we serve,” said Beatty Brasch, executive director at the Center for People in Need, 3901 N. 27th St. Brasch said a survey of CFPIN clients revealed 53% use StarTran buses to get to and from its facility, and about 42% of the bus riders say they have difficulty affording the $8 monthly fee for a low income/senior StarTran bus pass.

Each free bus pass gives the passenger unlimited riding time for a month.

Brasch applauded Schmeling and other CFIT members for their work in pursuing the grant. A bus pick-up location is located just east of the CFPIN.

Schmeling said riders greatly appreciate StarTran’s expanded hours, citing the 9:33 p.m. last stop near CFPIN as an example. “That’s about two-and-a-half hours later than it used to be.”

Most ready next week

The bulk of the passes should be in the hands of the agencies sometime next week, Schmeling estimated Tuesday.

In addition to the CFPIN, agencies to receive the passes will include Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach, the Salvation Army Community Center, People’s City Mission, St. Monica’s, Lutheran Family Services, Fresh Start, YWCA, Saint Paul United Methodist Church Outreach, Community Action Partnership, the Good Neighbor Community Center, and CenterPointe.

What others are saying

Earlier this week, news of the free bus passes was already generating responses at agencies selected to receive them. “That’s great! No more worry about wondering if I can make my doctor’s visit,” a client named Alex said at Lutheran Family Services.

Another client added, “This will save me money I’d normally spend on transportation to my volunteer job, so now I’ll have money that’s normally budgeted to ride the bus.”

“We hope this will be an ongoing program continuing into the future,” Schmeling added. CFIT will serve as a clearinghouse for the distribution of the passes.

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