Tue May 17, 2011
Eastern and Central Kentucky

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.