Lack of public transportation, especially in largely rural areas, creates a significant barrier to employment, medical appointments, and other important travel needs, area officials say.

Robert Endicott, a transportation planner with the Cherokee Nation, told a group of 20 representatives from more than 10 agencies, that he has seen a growing issue with people going to work. The group met Thursday at American Legion Post 15 to discuss improved public transportation in the Muskogee area.

“The problems getting to jobs has become very visible,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say they can’t work because, by the time the pay for gas, it has cut way into their paycheck.”

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation organized meetings across the state to help local transportation providers be more efficient.

State Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, told the group that their brainstorming and planning efforts are crucial in the current political climate.

“You’re going to have to be imaginative,” he said. “The trend is that the feds cut it (funding), and they hope the states will pick it up. The states are cutting it, and pushing it down to the county and city level. And the people at the county and city level are getting crushed under this.”

Ann Ogoreuc, senior transportation planner with URS Corp., which is under contract with ODOT to facilitate the project, helped the group come up with ideas to supplement transportation funding. Those included:

• Commercial advertising placed on transportation vehicles.

• Cooperation with health and wellness groups.

• Arrangements with private employers.

• Discounted rates after peak hours.

Charla Sloan, transit director for KiBois Area Transit System, said she has seen government funding slashed from $5 million to $700,000 at a time when requests for transportation are overwhelming her resources.

“We started out as a service primarily for senior citizens,” she said. “But our buses now carry young people without vehicles to work and transport people who may be able to afford a vehicle but have vision problems or are on chemotherapy.”

Sloan described the ODOT meetings as very useful, adding that she met representatives from the Department of Rehabilitation Services who didn’t know KATS was available for their clients.

Michael Lynn, director of transportation for the Cherokee Nation, said there is definitely a need for more effective public transportation.

“It’s probably more prevalent for the Cherokee Nation just because of where tribal citizens live,” he said. “Some are in town, but a large number live in rural areas.”

Lynn said a coordinated effort will require leadership.

“One agency would have to take the lead,” he said. “Either in providing buses or just funding.”

Another ODOT meeting is planned for early October.

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