NTS Builds Support Network Ahead of Request for State Funding

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A popular non-profit that offers affordable rides to people who don't have their own transportation is experiencing increased demand.

The Neighborhood Transportation Service or NTS is growing so large that it is turning people away. Now, the group is gathering support to fix the problem. State Sen. Liz Mathis is working with NTS to create a bill asking for state money to expand NTS this legislative session.

NTS said transportation shouldn't be a barrier to employment. That's why it drives curb-to-curb in the Cedar Rapids metro area offering affordable lifts to work, school or life classes when city buses don't run. Many of the drivers start at 6 p.m. and end at 6 a.m..

The group said as the economy continues to improve, more people are getting jobs. Some, however, can't find a way to get to those jobs, especially the late night hours.

The program has grown over the years. In 1994, when the program first started, the group gave 566 evening rides. Then, the time period between the summer of 2012 to summer of 2013, drivers served 54,790 people.

Each week night at 8 p.m. Denny Anderson gets off of work and hops into the NTS van. He doesn't have a car, and said the service is vital.

"If it wasn't for NTS, I wouldn't have this job. That's the best way to say it, if it wasn't for them I would have it," said NTS Rider Denny Anderson.

Many are in his shoes. With the growing need, NTS doesn't want to turn away people like Denny. So, NTS Development Director Kay Fisk faced the Cedar Rapids City Council Tuesday.

"Basically why I'm here today is to ask the city's support and they do have two lobbyists that I would like to have their support as we move into the legislative session," Fisk said.

She didn't ask for any money, just a letter of support. It's one more step in her journey to build a whole network of support for the cause. She's pushing to get legislation passed as soon as the session begins.

"What it's going to do is provide funding for people like NTS and other places in the state," Fisk said.

Fisk said the legislation will ask for one million dollars in state funding to help expand services and help more people.

NTS is teaming up with Senator Liz Mathis. She said she didn't have to look far to see the economic growth that could come from this.

"CCB Packaging, for instance, has a third shift. They want to keep producing packaging for the people that they have contracts with and it's far enough out in Hiawatha that it's very hard to get transportation to," State Sen. Mathis said.

As for Denny he's thankful for his ride home and interested to see if the wheels start rolling on this new funding effort.

The group said the plan is that the bill will include a two-year funding period. Senator Mathis said it's specifically designed to help with funding transportation for those working shifts when city transportation isn't running. They'll present their bill in January, and will wait to see if it gets support from other lawmakers.
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