LARS to keep rolling for one more year

A local medical transportation service will keep its wheels turning for at least one more year, thanks to a recent resolution by Lancaster County Council.

Council unanimously approved the measure at its May 14 meeting allowing the Lancaster County Council on Aging to apply for grant funding to continue operations for the Lancaster Area Ride Service (LARS). The service, which transports non-Medicaid recipients to doctor appointments both inside and out of Lancaster County, was in danger of shuttering once its funding ran out this September.

The new resolution authorizes the Council on Aging to apply for Federal Transit Administration funds, specifically those earmarked for non-urbanized public transportation, allowing LARS to operate for at least one more year.

County Administrator Steve Willis said the funding has already been allocated and set aside for Lancaster County by SCDOT’s Division of Mass Transit, though the Council on Aging must still apply to receive the funds.

Council decided at the end of April to approve continuing LARS for one more year.

As part of the arrangement, the Council on Aging will apply for a grant which will expand LARS into a public transportation service, though it will continue to center around medical transports, Willis said.

“The grant will spell all that out,” Willis said. “The Council on Aging will coordinate with S.C. DOT (Department of Transportation) to follow the terms of the grant while keeping a medical focus.”

To accommodate the rules of the grant, LARS may also establish zoned service where it would operate in specific zones on certain days each week, Willis said. The idea is to control costs and better organize rides.

The future of LARS looked uncertain earlier this year as council considered whether or not to continue the service, as its funding from the J. Marion Sims Foundation is set to expire on Sept. 30. The foundation helped initially sponsor the service and awarded a three-year $444,495 grant to LARS in 2009. That funding covered startup costs, as well as staffing, vehicles and other expenses for the first three years.

“Council has known for awhile this was just start-up funds and not perpetual funding,” Willis said. “The Federal Transit Authority funds on the other hand are designed to be perpetual funds.”

Willis expects the new grant funding to be awarded before LARS’ current funding ends in September and doesn’t anticipate a lapse in operations.

“Council has also left an option that next year they can review LARS and may continue it or may not continue it,” Willis said.

By Chris Sardelli, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News