History of Region 1
Northeast Iowa Community Action Public Transit began in August 1976 with five vans - one each in Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties. The only people transported at that time were people over age 60 and their spouse, because funding for buying the vans and operating the program came through a contract with the Area I Agency on Aging.
At the time, there were also five passenger cars and/or station wagons used in the Nutrition program, also funded by Area I Agency on Aging, to transport elderly to the meal site and to do home delivery of meals.
To get the transit program going, routes were set up in each of the five counties to provide transportation five days a week for elderly people from communities in the county. In each community, volunteers were found to take calls from people wanting to ride the van and reserve a seat. Even then, if someone had a medical need, that person was given priority if there were more riders than van seats. Trips were usually to the county seat, but could go just about anywhere the riders wanted to go - just as long as they could return home safely yet that day. There were trips to Lacrosse, Wis; West Bend; the Amana Colonies; Rochester, Minn.; Waterloo; and McGregor. Funding was quite abundant and there were no restrictions on purpose of the trips, just getting people out of their homes for a sight-seeing tour was an acceptable reason for scheduling a van trip - as you can tell by some of the names they went by - Senior Transportation, or later Country Travelers. Riders donate for their rides and the Area 1 Agency on Aging's contract covered the remainder of the cost.
Before long a 100-mile, one-way restriction was initiated - mostly for safety reasons - but this still left many places available to be visited by loads of people. In those days, there were no restrictions about going out of state either or, rather, there were restrictions but the transit officials did not yet know about them. Luckily they did not have any accidents out of state or there might have been a rather quick awakening. However they now have a U.S. DOT permit to cross state lines.
The first major change came in 1979-80 when the State of Iowa was charged with the task of eliminating unnecessary and duplicative transportation costs by coordinating transportation among agencies receiving state or federal funds. Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation was designed as the Regional Transit Authority in the five counties comprising Region 1 and was given the task of coordinating transportation in the area. The Head Start and Nutrition programs were the first to coordinate with the transit program for transportation services for their clients. There two programs turned over their station wagons and cars to the transit program and coordination was on way. The fleet was composed of six vans and five passenger cars; and staff included six full-time and four part-time drivers, one secretary-bookkeeper and one program manager.
Next came the addition of Title XX, the program that provides for the transportation of handicapped adults to work activity centers in Decorah, Waukon, Stanley and Elkader; and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to the system, now call the Northeast Regional Transit System.
Through the years, contracting has become an important part of transit. The following are some of the agencies that transit has had contracts with: Area 1 Agency on Aging, Title XX, Head Start, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, preschools in Lansing and Monona, child development classes, Northeast Iowa Refugee Coordination Services, and the Hometown Taxi in Decorah. In the fall the local school systems are contracted with to aid in transporting Head Start and the child development programs, both to and from six Head Start classrooms. Transportation is provided for children in 15 Head Start classrooms and three child development classrooms, coordinating most of it with school buses.
The transit program currently employs five full-time lead drivers, two full-time drivers, and 29 part-time and back-up drivers, one service technician, one system administrator, and one manager. The NEICAC indirect staff handles bookkeeping duties. Currently, there are 44 vehicles in the fleet - ADA minivans, two minivans, and one ADA conversion van, nine standard vans, seven raised roof vans with lifts, six light-duty buses and 15 ADA light-duty buses.
Services are no longer just for the elderly. Instead, transit services are available for any persons of any age, or any financial position who needs transportation, as we are a public transit system. Regularly scheduled service is provided throughout the five county regions and the state, along with service into Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Some of the areas with transportation on a bimonthly or as needed basis are: Iowa City, Waterloo, Dubuque and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Rochester, Minn.; and La Crosse, Wis.