A meeting was held at the Cumberland Valley Area Development District in December for a brainstorming session on ways to improve public transportation. Members of the city's community met with Carrie Kissel, the associate director of the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation (NADO) and Jessica Bray, regional transportation planner of the Cumberland Valley Area Development District.

Others present included London Mayor Troy Rudder and Executive Director of the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce Deanna Herrmann, as well as representatives of the Whitley County Health Department, the Whitley County Detention Center, Daniel Boone Transit and RTEC.

"Me and my team of folks are available to help with rural transportation information and assistance," said Kissel. "Unfortunately, we can't re-grant USDA (US Department of Agriculture) money to rural transportation services. But we can provide research, look for rural transportation services and do the planning."

Various individuals relayed problems they see when it comes to residents in Laurel and its surrounding counties having access to transportation.

One of these issues includes people who need access to the health department being unable to make the drive. They may not have someone able to drive them to the department. If they own a car -- regardless of whether they can drive it -- Medicaid renders them ineligible to take advantage of local transportation services. Navigating the rules of Medicaid has proved to be a challenge.

The Whitley County Health Department once had a Healthy Stops program funded by a health insurance company. This program would help people make it to the health department. However, another common issue arose; the funding for the program ran out and the department had difficulties finding donors.

Another issue brought up was the inability for many individuals released from prison to attend their numerous obligations -- such as probation check-in and drug rehabilitation. These individuals often no longer have a vehicle which presents issues of the released inmates not being able to meet their commitments or find and hold a job if they have no transportation.

"We have an abundance of jobs and a low unemployment rate of about four percent. Citizens of Laurel County make up about 40 percent of London's workforce, meaning the other 60 percent is coming from other counties," said Mayor Rudder. He explained that many would fill up London's job vacancies, however, they're unable to travel to the city. As mentioned earlier, these people would need money to buy the vehicle to take them to a job where they could earn said money.

"A factory down in Corbin had four people sharing a vehicle," added Herrmann. "The driver found another job and left, then that factory lost four employees. If they had transportation, they'd be back right there at work."

Tyler Burris of RTEC (Rural Transit Enterprises Coordinated) brought up programs the company had utilized to help people get to work. Unfortunately, these programs eventually fell through.

"From Bell County to Corbin, we did a shared route to go to TCL in Corbin. It lasted a week and a half. That's been our issue," he said. Usually, only a handful of people take advantage of these programs. Sometimes they find another means of transportation. In other cases, they lose their job or quit.

"A few years ago, we took people from Somerset to Campbellsville -- 60 miles one way," continued Burris. "We charged $10 for a round trip, but we were losing money because there were about four on the bus. I tried getting ahold of Amazon for funding, but they didn't care."

Kissel opened the floor to discuss assets Laurel and its surrounding counties have to help alleviate transportation woes. One such example brought up includes the numerous parks and trails in the area. Boone Trace, for instance, could be used as a biking trail that some with bikes could use to travel to work.

Those with suggestions or questions regarding local transportation issues are encouraged to reach out to Carrie Kissel at (202) 643-9560 or ckissel@nado.org. Alternatively, Jessica Bray can be contacted via phone at (606) 864-7391 or over email at JessicaB@cvadd.org.

dcombs@sentinel-echo.com

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