Petition seeks public transit for local residents

  Some Elizabethton residents are seeking help from public agencies and local government for a transportation system to replace the city's last private taxi cab service that closed in September.
  Citizens lost one mode of transportation when the city's last private taxi company closed in early October after more than 50 years of service.
  Over 200 residents of Village East Apartments and Courtyard Apartments have signed petitions supporting the formulation of a taxi service or some form of public transportation in Elizabethton for individuals.
  Newly elected County Commissioner Steve Lowrance received the petitions from citizens regarding the taxi service.
  "If people were aware of the need for that, some people might take the initiative to start a cab service," Lowrance told the Star last week.
  Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl said Wednesday he received copies of the petitions from Lowrance. Stahl said the city government has not explored the option of subsidizing a public transportation system given the city's size and a heretofore lack of a need for the service.
  "Elizabethton was blessed with taxi service up until recently," said Stahl, who added that developing a local transportation system would require local funding for the city.
  The Northeast Tennessee Transit or NET Trans service provides transportation for the elderly and infirm who do not or cannot drive.
  Tom Swadley, the agency's director of transportation, said NET Trans serves seven counties in Northeast Tennessee under the auspices of the First Tennessee Human Resource Agency. Swadley said NET Trans conducts a "demand response" as long as people needing transportation service called the agency's toll-free telephone number before 12 noon on the day before
  "We serve the general public, but we also take people to medical appointments, do shopping, basically any reason you could think of," he said. "The service is a phone call away for people."
  Lowrance said he was aware the Senior Citizens Center offered transportation service through NET Trans, but added the schedule often conflicted with that of others.
  Swadley said demand for the service increases during the summer months and remains steady into the latter part of the year. He attributed the rise partially to higher gas prices, but mostly to a growing population of citizens without transportation.
  "Some people just don't have a means of transportation to get them to a place they need to go to," he said.
   NET Trans also serves as a means of transportation for local citizens patronizing the Elizabethton Senior Citizens Center during the weekdays. Ruth Goodwin, executive director of the Elizabethton Seniors Center, said the center usually requests three vans to transport seniors citizens to and from the center.
  "They bring citizens to the center for various activities," said Goodwin, who estimated NET Trans typically transports 20 to 25 seniors citizens to the center each week.
  Goodwin said the service takes seniors to local grocery stores on Wednesday and to Wal-Mart on Thursday.
  The Johnson City Transit provides public transportation services to individuals with disabilities, demand-response services, job access, charter services and school bus transportation. The JCT accommodates almost 1,300 passengers per day according to that city government's Web site.
  Stahl said city administration would research the workings of public transportation to gauge whether the city could afford such a system. He also stated it was not out of the question to believe the JCT could extend its service into Elizabethton in the future.
  "It is certainly a question I'll be exploring just to see what is out there," he said.