Funds Short at Transport Service for Disabled

An organizational change within the American Red Cross is affecting the city of Lexington's public transit service. LexTran has a contract with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Red Cross to operate WHEELS, the transportation service for people with disabilities. As LexTran prepares to pass a $24 million budget for the next fiscal year, the Red Cross has said it needs an additional $346,000, pushing the cost of its service past $4 million a year.

"If we don't do that, then they essentially have told that they cannot continue to provide the service. And the contract with them allows them a 90-day clause to opt out of the service."

LexTran General Manager Rocky Burke says he doesn't have much choice in the matter because the para-transit service is required by law. The Red Cross is focusing more on core services like disaster relief, and the national organization says local chapters cannot operate transportation programs at a loss.

"Things have changed within the Red Cross structure. It used to be, according to Mr. Burkhart, their CEO, that the local chapters had a lot of flexibility to manage their budgets the way they best see fit. But things have changed; they're simply a business unit of the national headquarters now."

At least for this next year, Burke says LexTran will be able to swallow the added cost thanks to a cash reserve fund.

LexTran has a positive relationship with the Red Cross, which has operated WHEELS for more than 30 years in Lexington. The contract is up for renewal next March.