EDITORIAL: Ride plan a good start

Mar. 26—Transportation is fundamental to so many aspects of our lives, but the city of Joplin shuttered its regularly scheduled transportation service, the Sunshine Lamp trolley, more than a year ago.

Somebody ought to do something.

We've argued that Joplin's trolley is a critical public service that needs to be restored as quickly as possible. The reason given for halting the service was a driver shortage. The city has said it has drivers in training and that the service could return soon, and it is taking steps to revive the service by offering more competitive wages and approving a new trolley. It also wants to establish a regional transit authority. The community had been told the service could possibly return as soon as last fall.

Still, it didn't.

Somebody ought to do something.

Somebody has — and not just in Joplin. A $25,000 donation from the Arvest Foundation will help launch a free transportation service in Jasper, Newton, McDonald and Barton counties.

The funds are going to the Community Action Ride System that the Economic Security Corp. is launching in its four-county service area.

CARS will be a free, volunteer-driven transportation service. Volunteer drivers will provide rides and ESC will reimburse them mileage. Free rides will be available to anyone, regardless of income. ESC will use federal grants, state funds, business sponsorships and donations to fund the program.

"Transportation has been a top-five need, so this year, we decided we were going to try to address it," Ryan Peterson, ESC executive director, said during the check presentation Monday.

Somebody needed to do something. We're glad the Arvest Foundation and ESC are.

Studies have shown that access to reliable transportation is the single biggest factor in escaping poverty and avoiding homelessness. Without transportation, jobs, groceries, training, medical care and more can be out of reach. How many neighborhoods have grocery stores, a range of employment opportunities, medical care, etc., within ready walking distance? And the challenge in rural areas is even greater.

"Ultimately, it's connecting residents to medical appointments, to the pharmacy, to the grocery store, to community centers and senior centers, but also to things like employment and maybe school," said Cavanaugh Studyvin, who is organizing the program for ESC.

"It is completely volunteer-driven," Studyvin said of the program. "Volunteers will drive their own vehicles, and then Economic Security will reimburse them at the federal mileage rate. Those volunteers are giving back to their community and making that impact, but there is a little bit of reimbursement just for mileage for helping out."

This program and donations to support it are a step in the right direction.

More remains to be done.