Gov. Mike Beebe signed House Bill 1774 on Monday, perhaps solving transportation funding problems for the Senior Citizens Centers, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Faulkner County Council on Developmental Disabilities.

The bill, sponsored by Linda Tyler, D-Conway, defines public transportation in a way that state turnback funds may be used for more than street projects and allows those funds to be used to provide transportation for the general public or selected groups.

Tyler, in the governor’s office with other supporters of the bill as it was being signed, said the act does three things:

• It allows the cities and the counties to contract or sign an agreement with agencies such as FCCDD, Senior Citizens and Boys and Girls Club to provide transportation services.

• It raises the maximum amount that cities greater than 50,000 can spend on public transportation.

• It adopts the latest definitions of public transportation.

"I know that cities like Conway can benefit from the potential of financing public transit through our street budget, and it will certainly benefit our community by providing needed funds for non-profits who transport many of our citizens for services," Tyler said.

Also attending the bill-signing in the governor’s office were Debra Robinson, executive director of the Faulkner County Senior Citizens Program, and Jackie Fliss, executive director of Independent Living Services and a member of the board of Faulkner County Council on Developmental Disabilities.

The bill passed without a "no" vote in both the House (95-0) and Senate (35-0), 

"It was a delight to work with Rep. Tyler on the bill," said Ann Gilbert, executive director of the Arkansas Transit Association. 

The act will take effect 90 days after the Legislative session ends this week.

The ATA is a non-profit association with almost 240 members, including 14 urban and rural transit agencies, community services organizations transporting the elderly or people with developmental disabilities, private passenger carriers, state agencies and industry vendors.

ATA provides training in transportation safety and oversees the Department of Transportation program that provides vans for non-profit organizations.

County Judge Preston Scroggin said he was pleased that counties and cities will have the option of using road funds for transportation.

"It’s permissive legislation," he said. "There are no guarantees that the Quorum Court will choose to use some of the funds that way, but we know the agencies need help."

Rinnia Johnston, executive director of FCCDD’s Supported Work program, said that agency has been in dire straits regarding transportation since it learned that the City of Conway could no longer assist with transportation funding for local agencies.

"We received a mid-year allocation from United Way of Central Arkansas which completed our 2010-2011 original request. We didn’t get anything extra," she said. "That has helped us to sustain right now, but if things continue and we cannot get other funding, we’ll have to make drastic transportation cuts by May 1. We were trying to wait until we could help our clients find other ways to get to work, but we haven’t had any luck, because there are no other ways."

The news from the Legislature was good news indeed for Johnston.

"Funding losses would be devastating to the community of disabled," she said. 

The agency transports 10-15 clients a day.

"We take them to jobs, to doctors’ appointments, pharmacies, grocery stores, to CARTI, to dialysis," Johnston said. "It’s an essential service for these clients who have no other way to get around."

A campaign to help the Faulkner County Senior Citizens keep its transportation program rolling was successful, raising $45,000 in one week.

The Boys and Girls Club also has been searching for other funding avenues to help transport the 190 children that are picked up each day from 12 elementary schools.

(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at becky.harris@thecabin.net or 505-1234.)