Missouri is the only state in the union that has a public transportation option in every county. Southeast Missouri Transportation Service, or SMTS as many know it, has helped provide this service for the past 45 years.
SMTS, which provides public transportation for 21 Missouri counties, celebrated its 45-year anniversary with a party Oct. 18. SMTS is the second largest rural transportation provider in the state, surpassed only by OATS which covers 87 counties.
Drivers and employees from all 21 Missouri counties SMTS serves gathered for the anniversary celebration and reflected on 45 years of public transit service.
“Southeast Missouri Transportation Service is one of the nation’s oldest rural public transportation systems, and one whose creation came as many have since, not at the behest of a government funding program but in response to a very real need in the rural communities of Missouri,” SMTS Executive Director Denny Ward said. “A number of volunteer groups in Southeast Missouri recognized that transportation was the single most requested need to aid independent living.
“The need was escalated to the Missouri Department of Community Development in the early 1970s in search of better mobility strategies.”
Ward said a nonprofit corporation was formed and, through the generosity of many three vans were procured along with volunteer drivers to start the transportation service for elderly residents and those living with disabilities.
“The first van was donated by Mr. Ralph Turley of Turley Dodge, while another was supported by Dr. Douglas Ross, a Farmington dentist whose clients were in need of transportation,” Ward said. “The year was 1973, and it soon became obvious that the need was greater than the capacity and available funding.”
Ward said eventually the need became recognized at the state and federal levels, and in just a few years, through the support of Senator Kit Bond and other elected officials, funding became available through the Federal Transit Administration as a flow through grant to the MIssouri Department of Transportation that was allocated to sub-recipients like SMTS, OATS and other transit providers.
“Today SMTS, Inc. operates in 21 Missouri counties with a fleet of approximately 200 vehicles and employs more than 200,” Ward said. “The organization is governed by a Board of Directors which includes Raymond Skaggs, Mark Massingham, Jim Eaton III, Enola Moody, Tom Steska, Cindy Minnis, Mary Vandiver and Barbara Tipton.”
SMTS currently serves Bollinger, Butler, Crawford, Dent, Howell, Iron, Madison, New Madrid, Oregon, Pemiscot, Perry, Phelps, Reynolds, Shannon, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, Texas, Washington and Wayne counties with its hub located in Fredericktown.
Ward said he feels that the company’s tagline probably best says it all … “Transportation is like water and electricity, you don’t think about it until you don’t have it, then you think about it a lot.”
He also said he recognizes his mentor, Bill Osborne, who served the company as executive director from 1973 to 2014, is largely responsible for the company’s success.
Ward said in the last fiscal year SMTS provided more than 300,000 individual rides to Missouri citizens.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at email@example.com