A hard time getting around

Published 6:31 pm Monday, August 6, 2018

For many of us, transportation is as simple as getting in the car and turning the key. For approximately 450 households in Beaufort County, however, this is simply not the case. According to 2016 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, this was the estimated number of households that lacked access to an automobile that year.

Imagine for a moment that you live in one of these households. How do you get to work? What about the grocery store or doctor appointments? These daily tasks are easily taken for granted, yet can be tremendously complicated by a lack of transportation.

In Beaufort County, Beaufort Area Transit System is one possible solution to the issue of transportation. Falling under the purview of the Beaufort County Developmental Center, BATS is considered the county’s “lead” transportation provider, according the county’s FY 2018-19 budget.

From providing transportation for citizens on Medicaid to senior services, BATS helps cover the needs of the county’s most vulnerable residents. The service also offers transportation to the general public for a variety of purposes, including work, school and shopping. While this is a valuable service to those who utilize it, transportation remains a challenge for many in Beaufort County.

According to information from the 2014 Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by the Beaufort County Health Department, Vidant Health and East Carolina University, survey respondents remarked on the availability and ease of use of transportation resources in the county.

“In Beaufort County, less than half of 2014 CHA survey respondents (39.4 percent) indicated that they felt there were sufficient transportation services available in the County,” the assessment states. “Furthermore, focus group participants supported the survey results by stating that the current public transit system was inconvenient in regard to scheduling and did not meet their needs in general. For example, one participant noted, “even though we have the Beaufort Area Transit System (BATS), a lot of people don’t know how to use it.” In turn, it appears as if there are both issues with the availability and convenience of the current system, as well as an overall lack of information about the resource.”

Add to that the cost of utilizing the BATS system, and the barriers to transportation become even greater. According to the rate schedule posted on the Beaufort County Developmental Center website, a round trip to and from Washington from Chocowinity is $20. For someone needing to get to Greenville from Washington, the cost is $55. A round trip to and from Aurora is $75.

While monthly fare rates and shared rides can help mitigate the cost for using the service, the price tag of a ride may still be prohibitive, even for someone who is employed.

Each year, for the past three years, county funding for BATS has increased, from $88,750 in 2016-17 to 141,250 last year, and finally $193,750 for FY 2018-19. Even still, transportation remains an issue, and one that local leaders need to consider moving forward.