Transit org wants to make transportation accessible in Casper — without buses | Casper

When Casper’s former bus operator lost his contract with the city amid allegations of double-dipping funds, it found itself with half a million dollars — and no buses.

The Casper Area Transportation Coalition board voted to use that money to continue the agency’s stated mission of providing transportation to low- and moderate-income residents.

But without a fleet or drivers of their own, CATC had to change tack.

Audit finds CATC local money received while all operations were funded by CARES Act

Now, the group has partnered with four local agencies, including Seton House and the Self Help Center, that receive reimbursement for bus tokens or cab rides from the former bus operator.

The organization also provide grants, often to match other funding, to several other nonprofits. Most recently, CATC and the Casper Housing Authority agreed to split the cost of a new van that will allow the CHA to take more children to school and daycare.

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CATC is still in the middle of a legal battle with the city of Casper. The city terminated the operator’s contract in April 2021, and took over bus services the following month.

At the time, and in legal documents since then, the city said an audit showed CATC had received grant money to cover expenses that were already fully paid for by the city’s CARES Act allocation during the pandemic.

In a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, CATC says the city violated its rights by searching its leased office without a warrant, seizing records and ending their contract early.

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The city, which filed a countersuit this month, maintains their agreement with CATC allowed them to take the records to conduct an audit on the agency.

Reestablishing relationships with nonprofits and organizations hasn’t been easy with litigation hanging over CATC’s head. There was some “hesitancy” from some of the leaders the agency initially approached to offer help, said board Vice President Steve Kurtz.

But CATC’s new system actually supports the city’s bus service — their partners buy the tokens directly from the city.

“It’s been really great for clients who have barriers related to transportation to have other options to get to where they need to be, to get the services they need,” said Self Help Center Executive Director Jen Dyer.

The center’s clients mostly use the tokens to get to appointments for health care, housing or job opportunities, Dyer said. Or the center can be reimbursed for taxi rides when clients need to travel outside the city bus’ operating hours.

Casper countersue's former bus operator, alleging it double-dipped on funding

Transportation doesn’t fit into the center’s operational budget, Dyer said, and grant money it receives from the Division of Victim Services has decreased in recent years. CATC’s grant program was a “fabulous” option for the Self Help Center, Dyer said.

“Their budget is to serve people, provide housing,” said board member Deanna Frey. “So now they have the ability to pay for a cab or other means for (clients) to get home.”

For now, business is slow. Dyer said that the Self Help Center typically receives about $400 per quarter as reimbursement, and estimated her clients use about 40 tokens and take around 15 cab rides during that time.

Eventually, board members said they’d be interested in applying for government grants again. But the roughly half a million dollars they have now will “last for years,” Kurtz said. CATC’s board still meets monthly, but the agency has just one part-time staffer left.