Working in any social work position or with an assistance agency, it is a quickly learned that one of the biggest barriers that the citizens of St. Francois County has is transportation.
SMTS Director of Operations Ginny Smith addressed Desloge Chamber of Commerce members at their monthly luncheon on Tuesday to unveil the newest undertaking by the transportation company.
SMTS will be launching “SMTS Connect” on Aug. 5 to take a huge bite out of the barrier of transportation. Rides on Aug. 5 will be free to everyone all day. The route will be a deviated route and at initial start-up will encompass the towns of Farmington, Park Hills, Leadington, Desloge, and Bonne Terre. “SMTS Connect” is for anyone to ride as long as they are able to pay their fare.
Buses will run in 60-minute loops and there will be a south route (Bus A) and a north route (Bus B) with Mineral Area College as the “transfer station” for individuals to go from one route to the other.
The new transportation will feature four types of stops.
First, the “transfer” stop will always be at Mineral Area College. This stop is for individuals to transfer from a north route to a south route bus and vice versa. There is no charge to board the bus at the transfer stop regardless of whether an individual is transferring from another bus, starting there, or boarding after shopping.
The second type of stop is the “always stop” which as it implies, is a set of stops where the bus will make a stop every time it completes the loop. Always stops for the north route or B Bus include the DFS office in Park Hills, East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) in Park Hills, EMAA Desloge, St. Francois Heights Apts., Walmart in Desloge (Lawn and Garden Entrance), and Bonne Terre City Hall.
Always stops for the south route or Bus A include Walmart in Farmington, Whispering Pines Apts., Country Mart in Farmington, Ben-Nor Senior Apts., Birch Tree Apts., and the West Industrial Park Hager Lake Pavilion.
The third type of stop is the “request stop.” Just as the name says, a request stop has to be requested by the rider. There are three ways this can be done: the rider can ask the bus driver to stop there to exit the bus; the rider may ask the driver to be picked up at a later scheduled request stop on the same day; or the rider may call the SMTS office at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled request stop time and ask to be picked up.
Request stops for the north route include Leadington Plaza, Leadington Apts., Social Security Administration Office in Park Hills, Park Hills Country Mart, Flat River Apts., Park Hills Save-a-Lot, and Bonne Terre Country Mart.
Request stops for the south route include: Farmington Senior Center, Hilltop Apts., St. Francois County Courthouse, the VA Clinic in Farmington, and the Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry in Farmington.
In addition, bus drivers are allowed to deviate one-fourth mile from the route to pick up or drop off a rider, however, this must be arranged at least 24 hours in advance by calling the SMTS office.
One of the biggest concerns that came up in the Desloge Chamber meeting was “will individuals in the community be able to afford to ride the bus?” Smith told the chamber that the fares for riding the bus are as little as $2.
For a single ride, the cost is $1 per boarding per person. This means that an individual who wants to go from the DFS office in Park Hills to Farmington Walmart and then back will pay $2 for the round-trip ride.
The organization will also offer an all-day pass for $3 per person which includes unlimited boarding for the day of purchase (Hand stamp required at first boarding). In addition, an all-day family pass for up to five individuals can be purchased for $6 and includes unlimited boarding for the day or purchase as well. All persons in the group must board and exit the bus at the same locations at the same times. Children under 5 ride free.
Prepaid punch cards will also be available. A $10 card will allow 12 boarding (two free) and a $20 card will allow for 26 boarding (six free). Monthly and annual passes will also be available and include unlimited boarding. Monthly passes are $35 and annual passes are $315. Monthly passes require the rider’s name to be printed legibly on the card and are subject to verification. Annual passes will be sold only from December through mid-February and much be purchased at the SMTS office or by special arrangement (these require rider’s photo on the pass).
“It is important to note that as of this time, purchases may only be made in the form of cash and cash fares bought on the bus must be exact – drivers will NOT have change,” said Smith. “Because of the paperwork that has to be done to set up the routes or change the stops the route that you see now will be the way it is for at least one year."
“We hope to be able to add the cities of Leadwood, Terre du Lac, and possibly Bismarck after the first year of service.”
Some reminders that Smith gave during the meeting was that at this time the stops have no shelters although they are asking local businesses to perhaps consider providing some. Also buses may deviate 10 minutes from the schedule, all riders must wear seat belts and children must be in safety seats as required by law (not provided), riders are asked to be courteous to each other that includes being mindful of shopping bags and other belongings, and service animals are welcome.
It is important to note that regular buses will not be able to accommodate riders with mobility devices (wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) however, there will be an alternate bus running to accommodate these riders.
Routes will run from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday (no Sunday buses) and will not run on major holidays and during inclement weather. For any questions please contact SMTS at 1-866-349-8525
"SMTS will hold a public meeting on this new bus system on Thursday at the Farmington Public Library beginning at 10 a.m. We will be giving out some free passes and other small prizes at the event,” said Smith.