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Carroll Area Transit System growing, increasing services

Officials from Carroll Area Transit System say the nonprofit is not only alive and well, but it has rolled out a new service to the residents of Carroll by providing transportation outside the county — something that Carroll government's contract with Butler Medical does not provide.

Despite concerns about the future existence of CATS after it lost out on the county's public transportation contract in December, the organization is now offering weekday shuttle trips to the Owings Mills metro station known as the Metro Connector.

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While no one has opted to use the service since it started June 1, Executive Director Louise Tinkler said she isn't bothered by that.

"Everything that you start usually starts off slow," Tinkler said. "It's not like we have [a government] agency connection for that. When you are dealing with the general public it takes time."

She said the impetus for the creation of the Owings Mills shuttle service was the fact that the need for such transportation was going unmet.

"Over the years, we've had a lot of people calling about accessing services outside of Carroll," Tinkler said. "Most would be able to access these services if they could get to the metro. The [CATS board of directors] decided to provide two round trips a day, only for subscription by Carroll residents."

Depending on how Carroll residents receive this new service, the board of directors will consider expanding it to take people to either sporting events or other activities, she said.

"That is still in the development stages," Tinkler said. "We don't want to bite off more than we can chew. Now that we are advertising the service, we will see how that goes and take it one step at a time."

After the February transition from CATS to Butler Medical, the nonprofit was operating four shuttle runs to various clients throughout the county, plus two shuttles dedicated to the county's Veterans Shuttle service, which CATS has maintained, Tinkler said.

In the months since, the number of riders served has grown, requiring CATS to operate an additional four to five shuttle runs a day, she said. Many of these riders are clients of Carroll's various nonprofit organizations, such as CHANGE Inc.

"CATS only wants to do whatever the current public transportation provider is unable to do to fill in the gaps; we want to close the void," Tinkler said. "We are absolutely not in competition with the current provider. We just want to provide the unmet needs."

The Veterans Shuttle, formed in 2012 with grant funding to transport veterans and their caregivers to Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals outside of the county, has remained in the hands of CATS, and its number of riders continues to increase, said Frank Valenti, director of the county's Department of Social Services.

The DSS assists CATS as well as the Department of Citizen Services in the operation of the Veterans Shuttle.

"We run shuttles every day," Valenti said. "We have 14,000 veterans in the county and more people are retiring. We anticipate some growth in the veterans population."

In fiscal year 2014, the Veterans Shuttle had a total of 216 passengers, 413 single passenger trips, 156 bus trips, and 92 registered clients. So far in FY15, which ends June 30, CATS has transported 298 passengers via the shuttle, provided 562 single passenger trips, 174 bus trips and has increased its registered clients to 124.

Tinkler said a significant reason for its growth is word of mouth.

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"The veterans are very comfortable with us," she said.

By continuing to provide the Veterans Shuttle for the county, agreeing to transport additional clients of the nonprofits in Carroll, and creating the Metro Connector, CATS has made it clear it will persevere in its efforts to meet the demands of Carroll residents, something it has done for more than 40 years, Tinkler said.

"What we did was we responded to the needs that have been echoed for many, many years," she said.

410-857-3315

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How to ride

The Metro Connector is a daily shuttle from Westminster to The Owings Mills Metro Station. Pick-ups will be at the Fenby Park & Ride along Md. 97 south of Md. 32 at 5:15 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. Returns from the Metro will be at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Cost: $20 per round trip; $75 for five round trips

To reserve a space, call CATS at 410-857-0080.

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