Transit van has years of service in city

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Nancy Kelley of Huntingburg, right, joked with Huntingburg Transit driver Suzanne Patberg as she boarded the bus on Friday. Kelley takes the transit two to three times each week and has gotten to know all of the drivers. "They're so helpful. I don't know what I'd do without them," she said. Kelley decided to move from Ferdinand to Huntingburg in part because of the public transit system, which allows her to be independent since she cannot drive due to physical limitations.


HUNTINGBURG — Barbara Jones of Huntingburg likes to visit her brother, who lives at the Waters of Huntingburg, twice a week.

Since she doesn’t drive, the Huntingburg Transit Van picks her up and takes her to the nursing home.

“I call the transit van, and they put me down on their list to pick me up,” said Jones, 84. “When I’m coming back, I tell them I’m coming back at a certain time, for them to pick me up and bring me back home.”

If the van wasn’t there, she’d have to rely on her niece who lives in Kentucky to come up and take her.

“It’s really been so helpful to me,” Jones said about the service. “It’s very good for old people especially.”

Huntingburg Transit serves the entire city and up to two miles outside city limits. Two of the system’s three vehicles run between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Riders call to arrange a ride.

“They can call us anywhere from a week ahead to an hour ahead. We ask for an hour,” said Jacque Lueken, director of the city’s transit department. “That helps us make sure we can get to them in a timely manner. Otherwise, they can call us anytime, if they don’t mind just waiting until we can work them in our schedule.”

Although it’s best to call at least an hour in advance, those that suddenly find themselves in need of a ride are still encouraged to call. “For example,” Lueken said, “if someone’s car breaks down and they need transportation right away, if we can work them into the schedule, we’ll get to them as soon as we can.”

Shaina Dant, supervisor of summer programs for A Kid’s Place daycare, has found herself in sudden need to transport children.

“Sometimes it’s the last minute when we call, and they are great about getting us there on time,” she said. “We take the kids to the library for a program. If it’s raining, we don’t want to skip it. So we call the transit van to take us.”

For the last two weeks, Dant has arranged for the transit van to take their 25 students, who range from 6 to 10 years old, to or from the park or the pool for swim lessons.

“If it rains, or if it’s too hot to walk to the park, we’ll call them,” Dant said. “They are super good about being available.”

Jones agreed.

“I’ve had them stop at the bank while I run in. And if they can, they’ll wait,” she said. “If they have to leave, they will come back to get you.”

She also has called the service to go grocery shopping. “They take you by the store and drop you off. And you call them when you get finished, and they’ll pick you up,” Jones said. “If you need help getting on or anything, they’re right there to help you. They’re really good to you.”

Hunter Welborn, left, looked out the window as his twin brother, Eli, both 4 and of Huntingburg, waved goodbye to their home from aboard the Huntingburg Transit on Friday. It was the twin's first time on a bus, which they took to their grandmother's house with their father.

Huntingburg’s public transportation program began under Mayor Dale Helmerich as the locally funded HOPE van in the 1980s. While Connie Nass was mayor, from 1988 to 1996, the service began securing federal grants to finance operations; its name also changed to Huntingburg Transit Van.

The transit department has six people on staff: Lueken, an administrative assistant, a dispatcher, and three part-time drivers. They all have passenger chauffeur’s licenses and administrative assistant April Blessinger has a commercial driver’s license.

The cost to ride is $1 for a one-way trip and $2 for a round trip. But that does not completely fund the system.

The transit service is funded with federal grants from the Federal Transit Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Public Mass Transportation Fund. Lueken found out Tuesday that the FTA has approved the service for a $53,956 grant for 2018.

The FTA also gave the service two additional grants. A $42,658 vehicle grant will be used to purchase a new 12-passenger van, which will replace an older one. A $2,803 discretionary equipment award will be used to equip all the vans with surveillance equipment; as of now, only one of the three vans has a surveillance camera.

For 2016, the FTA contributed a $50,717 grant and INDOT a $23,312 grant. The city contributed $37,000. The FTA contributed $52,294 and the state $23,270 for this year. The total local funding is not yet known, since the year is not completed.

The number of passenger boardings has consistently increased over the years. In 2016, there were 10,552 boards, more than 10,267 in 2015; 9,419 in 2014; and 8,730 in 2013. For the first six months of this year, the total boardings is 5,403.

The top three categories of riders are those who are going to work, going shopping and kids going to education activities. In 2016, 36 percent of the rides were employment-related, 24 percent shopping-related, and 13 percent education-related. So far this year 39 percent were going to jobs, 20 percent stores and 12 percent education.

“We have such of diversity of individuals and needs here in Huntingburg,” Lueken said.

Jones and Dant said they appreciate having the service.

“It is really nice to know that you have someone who can take you someplace that you need to be taken,” Jones said.

After swim lessons at the Huntingburg Municipal Swimming Pool, Jaylynn Goodwin of Holland, 9, left, and Reagan Sermersheim of Huntingburg, 7, did a hand shake as the Huntingburg Transit took their group from A Kid's Place Adventure Planet summer program back to Salem United Church of Christ on Friday.

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