SEATS to expand operations


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After years of chauffeuring the elderly, one local fleet of white buses is looking to expand its reach.
SEATS Paratransit, Johnson County’s primary bus service for the elderly and disabled, revealed during a report at the Board of Supervisors meeting Thursday it has experienced continuous growth in the number of riders over the past four years.

As a result of this increase, SEATS wants to replace four old vehicles and acquire an additional two new ones for Iowa City to better accommodate its users.

The additions are expected to begin in April.

SEATS Director Tom Brase spoke about the financial strain the old vehicles have been causing.

“The vehicles keep breaking down and needing repair, which is hurting the taxpayers in Johnson County,” he said. “So we are really in need of some newer and nicer buses.”

In addition to the four replacements, SEATS would like to acquire two new busses to help assist with its ever-growing ride demand.

The number of bus trips has steadily increased by 10,000 rides each year for the past five years.

Brase indicated that 77 percent of rides occur in Iowa City. The service has become so popular, SEATS is having a hard time keeping up with its clients.  To help offset costs for new busses, Iowa City has taken responsibility for SEATS bus maintenance.

Iowa City Transportation Services Director Chris O’Brien was pleased with the progress and money saving this effort has provided.

“Iowa City now does the maintenance on SEATS busses to help consolidate and absorb labor costs,” he said. “We’ve made quite a few positive strides with the maintenance of those vehicles.”

O’Brien said that they now have appropriate funding to acquire the additional busses and have received approval to place an order. The new busses are expected to arrive within a six-month window, starting this April.

SEATS Advisory Committee member Terry Dickens said he believes he knows why the service has seen a rise in ridership lately.

“We go door to door, not just curb to curb. Our drivers get out and help patrons onto the bus,” he said. “Iowa City is also a very attractive area for paratransit busses because of the abundance of hospitals and medical services.”

Johnson County Board Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig pointed out that the cost for busses would not be too strenuous, because the majority of it is offset by federal grants.

“We do an 80/20 match with grants,” she said. “Federal grants provide 80 percent of the money, Iowa City covers the other 20 percent.”

Brase shared his contentment with how fast and cooperative officials had been in helping to acquire new busses, as well as funding — a sentiment that was mutually expressed by the board.

“We the Board are completely in support of SEATS,” said Rettig. “They offer a vital service to Johnson County, so anything Tom says to budget, we trust him on that.”

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