By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The EBCI Transit Program currently serves the Snowbird Community, but they are hoping that a new building will help them expand those services. A $110,000 grant from the Tribal Transit Program will help that become a reality.
“We’ve been there (Snowbird) for almost two years,” Kathi Littlejohn, EBCI Transit Program manager said. “We have two workers – Perry Teesateskie and Andy Jackson, and they’re excellent.”
Currently, the Snowbird service is for those under the age of 65 who have a disability and for everyone 65 years of age or older. “We provide free transportation, for those individuals who meet the criteria, to medical appointments and assistance for shopping.”
Littlejohn said the service took off quickly and within a few months of starting they had made 300 passenger trips. In 2014, they made over 3,600 trips. The Snowbird Transit service is currently located in the back room of the police department in the Snowbird community.
“It’s not adequate for passengers,” Littlejohn related. “There’s no disability access…someone in a wheelchair would have a difficult time.”
Littlejohn conveyed that they are very grateful to have been able to use the room in the police department, but a new building will allow them to do much more.
The first step in the process to build a new structure was to find the land itself. “It’s hard,” said Littlejohn, “because it’s either private land, or if its Tribal land, it’s not buildable land or someone else is already on it.”
She said they really scoured the community looking for a suitable area – which they found. “We looked at the existing complex and right beside the gym where the old library used to be, there’s a big bare spot.”
She said the next step will be to survey the area to see exactly what size building will fit. Once that is completed, the building will go out for bid. Littlejohn related that the project should not take long at all, and she hopes to be in the building by July.
Littlejohn said she thinks the Snowbird service will continue to grow. “We’re trying to implement a vanpool program because we hear that there are 25 or more people who drive from Snowbird or Robbinsville to Cherokee every day.”
She said the grant will help purchase a van to help with a vanpool that would save everyone a lot of money. “If there are six to eight people riding a day, the cost would be around $3 per day.” Littlejohn estimates that people commuting from Snowbird to Cherokee are currently spending around $90 per week in gasoline.
“We are also hearing more and more that people would like to have public transportation,” said Littlejohn. “We think that we can expand a lot there.”
Littlejohn hopes the Snowbird program can expand in staffing as well to include an office person to schedule trips. “Right now, if someone calls, he (Perry Teesateskie) has to pull over, with someone in the vehicle, to book someone else…I would also like to add another driver down there for the public.”
The EBCI Transit Program has been receiving grants from the Tribal Transit Program since 2000. The Tribe is a direct recipient of the grant that comes down through the Federal Transit Administration. The current grant has no tribal match, and the new building will not cost the Tribe anything.