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ETHRA bus service will continue for at least six more months

11:13 PM, Jun 27, 2013   |    comments
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With only three days until the start of a new fiscal year, the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency's bus program will keep the wheels turning.

On Thursday, the Knoxville Transportation Authority voted to give ETHRA $176,500 to keep the program going for seven East Tennessee towns, where the program would have been cut.

The service transports people to doctor's offices, grocery stores, and other places.

"Public transit has been a rural provider for the last 37 years, and due to the new census, we lost areas from 'rural' to 'urban,'" said Mike Patterson, ETHRA's transportation director.

In the 2010 count, the government classified Lenoir City, Loudon, Maryville, Alcoa, Clinton, Oliver Springs, and Seymour as 'urban' due to population growth. Federal funding for ETHRA would not allow these towns to use the money.

That's a loss of more than $700,000, according to officials.

"The people really in jeopardy was the people who did not have insurance. It's the general public who didn't have the fare to ride," Patterson added.

ETHRA will match the given $176,500, so they can continue the services for these towns for six more months. At this time, Patterson said plans are in the works to get federal funding for classified "urban" areas.

Recently, mayors from several towns met with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero about the temporary funding sources.

"We agreed to 'fast track' some allocation of the federal funds that come to us for the region so that their citizens would not lose that bus service," Mayor Rogero said.

ETHRA driver Jeff Cook said in his four years working for the organization, he could see the need for the service.

"There's a lot people that depend on us, and without us, there's no way these people need to get to where they need to be," he said.

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