Spanos: State decisions could dismantle CARTS system

MAYVILLE – State efforts to change the way Medicaid transportation is delivered could soon impact Chautauqua County taxpayers and residents using the CARTS system.

MaryAnn Spanos, director of the Office for the Aging, spoke at Monday night’s meeting of the Legislature’s Public Facilities Committee to discuss changes being implemented within the public transportation system.

The state Department of Health is in the process of hiring a regional transportation manager to implement a regional call center to replace current Medicaid coordination initiatives in Chautauqua County.

Currently, Medicaid transportation is coordinated through the Office for the Aging and CARTS, with support of the state Department of Transportation.

However, communication at the county level has already ended for several counties statewide, and will end in 2014 in Chautauqua County, while those on Medicaid and in need of transportation will have to use an answering service in order to arrange for a ride.

Originally implemented in New York City, rationale for the decision has been cost savings and a “one size fits all” approach, Spanos said.

However, the state has not taken into account how rural communities communicate together in order to organize rides for those on Medicaid and without other modes of transportation.

Operators based out of the county are less informed about available transportation times and options for CARTS users, further using other methods such as taxis and volunteers, which drives up costs, Spanos said.

“The Department of Health only looked at the coordination cost, while the cost of the ride will definitely change,” Spanos said. “The result of this will be a drop in ridership, and it could dismantle the whole CARTS system, which is subsidized by the local government. Really, it’s our only mode of public transportation.”

Other counties already operating under the new system have seen drastic reduction in ridership on public routes.

“If you take a quarter of riders out of the system, the cost goes up for everybody,” Spanos said, adding that CARTS provides services to veterans, the disabled and other transit-dependent riders not just those on Medicaid.

Cortland County has experienced a 31 percent loss of county transit system revenues since October, while bus drivers were reduced from 20 to 13 due to service decline, Spanos said.

Chenango County has seen a 32 percent decline in total transit system revenue from lost Medicaid revenue.

“Total dollars saved by CARTS coordination of mandated Medicaid transportation more than pays for the operational local share costs of CARTS,” Spanos said, adding that CARTS caters to veterans, nursing homes and other social agencies.

A motion was made to garner support of the county legislature for postponement of the program’s implementation, and will be further discussed with other committees throughout the week.

To show support for Medicaid transportation, call state representatives Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, or Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean.

Goodell can be reached at 664-7773. Young can be reached at 664-4603.