By LISA WHALEY
When former Jonesborough Alderman Mary Gearhart suffered a stroke many years ago, she was grateful for the presence of NET Trans to aid her in getting to where she needed to go.
Recently, after shoulder surgery, she found herself once again thanking the powers that be for the service.
Earlier this month, she found out this mode of transportation — long a boon to area seniors — would no longer be provided as a free service beginning April 1.
“It really scared me,” she said of hearing the news, “And it had me so worried about so many people.”
Fortunately for those impacted by the recent announcement, help is on the way — at least for the short term.
Representative Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Gray), Representative Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) and State Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) recently announced they had secured emergency funding to continue the NET Trans service until June 30.
“We have lots of our constituents all across Washington County that use NET Trans to go to dialysis, to go to the doctor, go get their groceries,” Hill said. “They obviously need to do those things.
“This is a stopgap measure. It’s a start and we’re working on the long term.”
The issue arose when a recent TDOT audit showed that many of the Northeast Tennessee Rural Public Transportation program services — more commonly known as NET Trans — were not considered rural, and NET Trans made its announcement it would stop providing services to such areas as Jonesborough and Telford.
NET Trans receives its funding from the Federal Transit Authority through 5311 funding, a type of funding that is only available for transportation services in rural areas.
According to Jonesborough Town Administrator Bob Browning, part of the problem is the definition of what constitutes urban and rural.
“You look at this issue of what’s rural and what’s not rural,” Browning said. “The whole city of Greenville is considered rural. And Telford and Jonesborough is considered urban.
“It’s people (in government) drawing lines. And these decisions end up impacting people here.”
It is also a problem that has the potential of becoming widespread, according to Hill and Hulsey.
“The moment the word got out, that’s when we started getting phone calls and letters from people who count on NET Trans,” said Hulsey, who represents Kingsport. “They need it to get to the doctor and places they have to go.
“TDOT is going to fund NET Trans through the end of June, until we can find a permanent solution. And we’re going have to. You can’t just dump these folks out into the world.”
Options discussed so far include transferring the responsibility to the municipal transit authority, such as Johnson City Transit, to another agency or finding additional funding.
Hill, in addition to promising to continue to work on the issue until a solution is found, also wanted to pass this message to Northeast Tennessee residents.
“They need to know their voices are being heard,” he said. “And that we’ve got a good team that are working really hard to find a long-term solution.”