MURRAY — At its monthly meeting earlier this week, the Murray-Calloway Transit Authority board discussed how getting its agency’s operations back to normal will depend largely on Medicaid relaxing restrictions so more people can ride a bus at once.
Board Chair Jim Clinger said that since MCTA receives reimbursement for its Medicaid riders, the agency’s finances are heavily reliant on that funding. For now, restrictions related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) only allow MCTA buses to transport one Medicaid rider at a time. Clinger said the agency is being cautious and applying that same standard to all riders regardless of Medicaid status.
During his monthly financial report, MCTA Executive Director Rodney Skinner noted the low ridership numbers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said there were 1,140 rides for the month of April, and 48 of those were to transport people to and from Need Line to pick up food boxes.
“That’s worked out pretty good,” Skinner said. “Need Line is very appreciative of that and we’ve been able to help the community out and help Need Line as well deliver some stuff to people who are a little bit isolated and don’t want to get out or don’t need to get out.”
Skinner said operations are still working about the same as last month. Six employees are currently working, and although trips have been pretty close to the same, he said April rides might have increased about 10 rides compared to March. He said trips for people on Medicaid had dropped drastically compared to the numbers before the pandemic.
“I think for (the May 20 schedule) when I looked at the schedule earlier, we’ve got seven Medicaid trips,” he said. “That’s not many at all when we’re used to doing close to 100 a day.”
Skinner said it would not be possible to bring back more MCTA employees until more Medicaid trips begin to happen.
“I know things are opening back up, and I’ve had several people call and ask when we are going to get going again and I can’t really give them an answer,” Skinner said. “Again, it’s Medicaid – whenever (more Medicaid patients start riding) that’s going to determine what we as transit do. Otherwise, there’s not enough business for us to call to bring people back. With things opening back up, you’re kind of leery of the numbers going up – and I know they’re going to go up because more people are going to be tested, and that’s just to be expected.”
The MCTA is currently only taking riders by appointment, but Skinner said several people have asked him when the buses will start going on routes again. He said he was thinking about starting that up again in mid-July and using the same social distancing guidelines the agency is currently using for its on-demand riders.
“I know that’s going to limit our numbers to just four people at a time (spread over all the vehicles), but I would rather do that if we’re going to run it. We’ll just run that way and see how it goes and adjust accordingly.”
Skinner said several MCTA employees had contacted him about their health insurance. He said MCTA had been approved for CARES Act funding to pay for operating expenses, so he assured them they did not need to worry.
“We do have CARES Act funding,” Skinner said. “It is for operating expenses, so continuing to pay for employee benefits is not going to be an issue. I’ve reached out to the people that have asked me about that and told them not to worry about it. (It told them) go ahead and make your appointments and do as you would normally do.”
Skinner said CARES Act funds are expected to open up in the next week or so to capital expenses, so he plans to request it because it is possible MCTA could receive some of that funding as well.
A church rents space at the MCTA headquarters for Sunday morning worship services, and Skinner said he has been getting calls from the church representative asking when they can open it again. He said he didn’t know for sure when it would be safe to allow the church members in again, but he wanted to ask the board members if they thought it would be appropriate to give a tentative date range around mid-July.
“Well, if we say, as a rough timetable, middle of July, we will have an opportunity in the June meeting to change that if we think it wise at that point,” Clinger said. “So I don’t think that’s a bad idea to give her that as a tentative date.”
Clinger also suggested finding out how many church members typically attend to learn how feasible social distancing will be for the congregation.