Johnny Carson Foundation offers assistance for transit services in Norfolk 

Johnny Carson Foundation offers assistance for transit services in Norfolk

Transit Board Takes on New Members, Local support still needed to resume operations of North Fork Area Transit

NORFOLK – The efforts to resume public transportation services in Norfolk have received a huge boost. The Johnny Carson Foundation has agreed to provide a $500,000 matching grant to North Fork Area Transit as a way to help eliminate the agency’s existing debt and provide funds for sustainability. The Carson Foundation funds will be made available if $500,000 can be generated through local fundraising efforts from January 31, 2023 and by February 28, 2023.

“We’re so grateful to the Johnny Carson Foundation for this support. Now we hope Norfolk and area businesses, organizations and individuals will help raise the needed matching funds,” said Corinne Donahue, NDOT Mobility Management Team.

The financial problems facing North Fork Area Transit, which is a nonprofit entity, came to light last month with the discovery of financial improprieties and missing funds. Because of the financial woes, all transit services were suspended earlier this month.

Since then, members of the North Fork Area Transit have taken steps to improve financial safeguards by working closely with the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Mobility Management team and also securing the services of a Norfolk CPA firm.

“We want nothing more than to rebuild the trust that has been lost and get back to providing the transportation services that so many senior citizens, disabled individuals, school children, business employees and others need,” Donahue said.

To that end, the North Fork Area Transit’s board has added three new members to bolster the board’s work and reform practices where necessary.  The three new board members include:

Jan Einspahr, local attorney

Rob Merrill, former City Councilman, owner of a small business

Chuck Waite, co-owner/manager of Graham Tire

Donahue said the transit agency has about $590,000 in debt and unpaid invoices that it needs to resolve. If the full $1 million can be raised thanks to the Carson foundation and local donations, the remaining funds will go toward ensuring sustainability once services resume.

Those wanting to help the transit agency with donations can drop checks off at any Elkhorn Valley Bank location or can Venmo donations to @northforktransit. Questions can be directed to Corinne Donahue at [email protected] or 402.370.6252.

 

Mobility Management Team Assistance Benefits North Fork Area Transit

NORFOLK, NE— Public transportation began in the Norfolk community in the 1970s and celebrated 50 years of transit service last September. North Fork Area Transit has made a difference in the region every day since its inception by providing vital public transportation services in Norfolk and surrounding communities.  These services are the backbone of affordable transportation options for residents and visitors to northeast Nebraska. The transit service is a main link to jobs, services, educational services, medical appointments, groceries, etc. – all impacting our local economy. Transit service is a success due to partner agencies who financially support the service and provide the local funding needed to keep services on the road and staff employed.

The December 2022 criminal investigation and fraud charges are an active case, and the Transit Board is cooperating with authorities, as required. As a non‐profit organization, facing and overcoming the total amount of money stolen from the agency is daunting and a major setback for everyone involved. This theft also impacts many local businesses who have supported transit service for many years. North Fork Area Transit is reeling from this fraud and suspended services on January 6, 2023, with approximately 60 employees losing their job.

The transit agency receives Federal Transit Administration funding and Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) funding grant reimbursements to fund transit services. In addition, NDOT provides access to its Mobility Management Team, who assists all 50 transit agencies in the state, including Norfolk. The Mobility Management Team has assisted Norfolk and the Northeast Region for over five years in transit planning services and operational support.

Who Is the Mobility Management Team –

Once the charges and warrant were issued, the North Fork Area Transit Board immediately reached out to NDOT and requested assistance from the Mobility Management team for additional services of agency oversight, administrative and operational assistance.

The Mobility Management Team consists of eight consultant firms who work with transit agencies across the country. The NDOT Mobility Management Team is led by Corinne Donahue, AICP, of Olsson. Ms. Donahue has over 25 years of public transit experience working with many rural communities across the US, in addition to assisting large urban transit systems, such as operational and facility assistance for Chicago Transit Authority. Ms. Donahue previously worked in Colorado Springs for the Transit Authority assisting and managing multiple projects, services, and grants.

Key members of the Mobility Management Team include:

Bob Bourne of Bourne Transit Consulting, based out of Ames, IA. Bob is a civil engineer by trade and was General Manager of CyRide, the Iowa State University transit system, for 25 years. With more than 40 years of experience in the transit industry, he has extensive knowledge of transit management, operations, training, safety, and marketing of bus services.

AT Stoddard, Ph.D., P.E. of LSC Transportation Consultants, is based out of Colorado Springs, CO. A.T. is a Senior Adviser at LSC’s Colorado Springs office. He has over 40 years of experience in civil and transportation engineering and holds Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Civil Engineering and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. His primary areas of expertise are in transportation systems analysis, transit demand analysis, and multimodal transportation planning. He has directed rural transit planning studies in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona.

Katie Salerno and Hannah Sievers, Olsson Lead Planners, are also key staff for North Fork Area Transit and have worked with the agency in route and bus stop planning over the past two years.

The Mobility Management Team is assisting the Board in multiple functions at the agency, from assistance with bus and driver assignments over past several weeks, to management reviews, staffing, transit service reviews, payroll support, and invoices and accounting review. The Mobility Management team will be available to the Board as they navigate through these immediate challenges.

In addition to the Mobility Management team, the Board engaged a local professional accounting firm to outsource payroll and taxes for the agency. The review of 2022 payroll, tax reporting, and the financial audit will be completed by the firm.

By having this team of experts available to the Board, existing policies, and procedures, both internally and externally, will be reviewed and updated, if needed.

The North Fork Area Transit Board is steadfast on moving forward with transit service for Norfolk and surrounding communities. This agency is supported by multiple organizations who need transportation for staff and for clients, including the City of Norfolk, Madison County, Tyson, Northeast Community College, Faith Regional Hospital, Lindsay Corporation, United Way, Great Dane Corporation, and Norfolk Iron and Metal, as well as many individual donations coming into the agency.

North Fork Area Transit Board Statement

December 28, 2022

Recently, the North Fork Area Transit Board discovered transactions not in the best interest of the agency and took that information to the appropriate officials, in which an arrest warrant was issued. We, and the employees of North Fork Area Transit, are deeply shaken and saddened at the alleged actions of Mr. Jeff Stewart, our former Transit Manager, and are working diligently to rebuild and regain the trust of our partners and the public that he put in jeopardy.

The Board met with Mr. Stewart monthly to review financial income statements to ensure funding was spent properly. It now appears the information provided to the Board was not accurate. As with any business or organization, there is a needed level of trust between a Board and its management. Unfortunately, Mr. Stewart misreported agency information to the Board and worked quickly in the alleged theft of funds.   The board acted in good faith and as soon as suspicious activity was suspected, immediate action was taken.

In addition, North Fork Area Transit is eligible for cost reimbursement from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and NDOT. Public transit operating expenses are reimbursed at 75 percent and non-operating expenses are reimbursed at 90 percent. Monthly invoices are submitted to NDOT for evaluation and payment. This system of checks and balances is stringent. Unfortunately, unbeknownst by the Board, not all eligible expenses were submitted for repayment.

The board has invested countless volunteer hours the past six years with the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) Mobility Management Team developing the framework for what is in place today – North Fork Area Transit. This was completed with one goal in mind – to help Norfolk residents needing transportation options get to work, medical care, and basic needs such as shopping for groceries. 

North Fork Area Transit Board welcomes the transparency of the investigation and is conducting an internal review of all its operations and processes. We care deeply about the future of public transportation in Norfolk and the surrounding area as we know many people depend on it for basic needs. We are working cooperatively with local law enforcement and reviewing all financial and agency data.

Further comment by the board will be reserved until additional facts are brought to us through the investigative process.

Thank you,

North Fork Area Transit Board of Directors

 

North Fork Area Transit Ordering Management and Operations Review

North Fork Area Transit

NORTH FORK AREA TRANSIT ORDERING MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS REVIEW

Norfolk, NE – Effective immediately, North Fork Area Transit Board of Directors is reviewing operations, systems, and management of all services. The Board is engaging outside assistance for a financial audit and operations/management assistance from the State Mobility Management Team. North Fork Area Transit is a non-profit organization providing public transportation to Norfolk and the surrounding communities. We are continuing to offer service during this time. For a transit ride, please call the office at 402.379.4595. 

‘Veterans Ride Free’ Program Sponsorship Continues

NORFOLK, NE—North Fork Area Transit is thrilled to be able to continue offering the “Veterans Ride Free” program as a direct result of a the continued generous sponsorship from Norfolk Iron and Metal (NIM). NIM Group President, Arnie Robinson stated, “Norfolk Iron & Metal is proud to be a part of this important community program.  Since last Veteran’s Day, 2,900 rides have been provided to veterans in our community. We’re grateful for the opportunity to thank our local veterans for their service, and are honored to be the sponsor of the Veterans Ride Free program.” 

The Veterans Ride Free program includes free rides on any ‘ForkLift’ route. The ForkLift bus offers transportation services on three routes in Norfolk and two regional routes that go to Madison and Wayne. In addition, curbside service can be scheduled by anyone who lives within three-quarters of a mile from any of the marked stops.  ForkLift operates Monday-Friday. Veterans will need to identify themselves to their driver upon boarding.

“Our veterans are cherished members of our community and we are thankful to Norfolk Iron and Metal for making it possible to provide free transit services to them,” said Jeff Stewart, Executive Director of North Fork Area Transit. 

School Tripper Service

North Fork Area Transit Partners with Pierce Public Schools

Norfolk, NE – North Fork Area Transit is announcing a new partnership with Pierce Public Schools for a new general public Tripper Service running between Hadar and Pierce. Pierce Public Schools approached North Fork Area Transit for assistance with student transportation due to a shortage of bus drivers. 

The new Pierce Tripper Route will have bus stops in locations where families have indicated interest. All Tripper services are developed based upon citizen requests and school start and dismissal times. The Pierce Tripper Route will only be in service on school days. All passengers on the Tripper Service must register by contacting the North Fork Area Transit office. 

“We are excited to partner with Pierce Public Schools to be a solution for transit needs in our surrounding communities,’ stated Jeff Stewart, Executive Director.

 For questions, contact the North Fork Area Transit office at 402-379-4595 or email [email protected]

Student Registration Underway For New Tripper Service

North Fork Area Transit is accepting registrations through Thursday, July 21st for student transportation in Norfolk using their new Tripper service. Parents and guardians must register their children for the upcoming school year by calling 402-379-4595 or by stopping at the transit office, located in the southwest corner of the Norfolk Senior Center at 307 W. Prospect Ave. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 6:00 am-5:30 pm and Saturday & Sunday, 8:00 am- 4:00 pm. 

The new Tripper routes serve bus stops located in neighborhoods where parents have indicated interest through the registration process. Tripper routes will be developed based upon requests and school start and dismissal times. Bus stops will be located within a block or two of a child’s home. Once all passengers on the route are boarded, the bus will travel to Norfolk schools for drop-off. 

Tripper service provides additional public transit routes to supplement current ForkLift bus routes. These routes are only in service on school days. North Fork Area Transit can transport unaccompanied children, age 4 or older, to and from their destinations with this service, however adult supervision for young children is recommended at bus stop locations. The cost is $1 per person, per one-way trip or $30 per person, per month. 

Youth age 12 and up can also choose to utilize the existing ForkLift bus route system for free by going to a bus stop near them. Routes and bus time schedules can be found at northforkareatransit.com/forklift.

Due to the increased demand from the community for school transportation, Tripper service will begin in August. In the first half of 2022, youth ridership totaled approximately 3,000 one-way trips per month which equates to approximately one-third of North Fork Area Transit’s total ridership. “The new service allows us to continue to provide high-quality, safe, reliable, and efficient public transportation to students and families,” stated Jeff Stewart, Executive Director of North Fork Area Transit.

For more information visit northforkareatransit.com/student. For questions, contact the North Fork Area Transit office at 402-379-4595 or email [email protected]

New Charter Trolley Service Launched by Partnership

NORFOLK, NE—A new partnership between Visit Norfolk Area and North Fork Area Transit is responsible for the launch of a new charter trolley service.  The joint venture fulfills a long-time goal for both organizations. Traci Jeffrey, Executive Director of Visit Norfolk Area, said, “We are always looking for new ideas to support tourism in the Norfolk area. The trolley is something we’ve been wanting to do for quite some time and it’s exciting to see it come to reality. It will provide a great experience for visitors and residents alike.”  

Visit Norfolk Area is asking the public to submit name ideas for the new trolley through the North Fork Area Transit website at northforkareatransit.com/trolley. “We’d love to have a catchy name for our trolley that is memorable and that we can make our own,” said Traci Jeffrey. 

The bright blue trolley was recently given a renovated exterior with the help of Love Signs, a local signage company. It has wooden benches that can seat up to 30 people. The trolley will be operated as a charter service through North Fork Area Transit.  The transit agency will provide a CDL driver to operate the vehicle and also handle bookings. The service area for charters will include any destination in Madison or Pierce counties. The base rental rate for the trolley is $550 plus an additional $44 per hour for the driver.

“The trolley is a great addition to the services North Fork Area Transit provides. It attracts a lot of interest wherever it goes and will be a unique part of many special events in the area,” stated Jeff Stewart, Executive Director of North Fork Area Transit. 

For more information about the new service, visit northforkareatransit.com/trolley or to book call Jeff Stewart at the North Fork Area Transit office, 402-379-4595

NiteLift

New Evening Ride Service ‘NiteLift’ Now Available

NORFOLK, NE—On Monday, June 13, North Fork Area Transit launched ‘NiteLift’, a new service that offers evening, on-demand rides with curb-to-curb pick up and drop off, similar to Uber®. NiteLift operates 7 days a week, Sunday through Wednesday from 6:30 pm-12:30 am and Thursday through Saturday from 6:30 pm-2:00 am.

Riders can be picked up at any address within Norfolk city limits and travel to any destination within a 30 mile radius. Rates within Norfolk are $5 per one-way trip, per person. Rates for trips outside the city of Norfolk incrementally increase based on the number of miles. A service and rate map is available at northforkareatransit.com/nitelift.

Riders can book a ride by calling 402-379-4595. Credit card payment must be made at time of scheduling. Rides are guaranteed within 2 hours or less. Riders can also walk-up to a parked NiteLift vehicle and request an immediate ride, based on availability of the driver. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are available upon request.

North Fork Area Transit Executive Director, Jeffery Stewart states, “NiteLift is a great compliment to our other daytime services-the ForkLift bus and TeleLift schedule-ahead rides, which both end service at 6:30 pm. NiteLift is a great option for shift workers and those who need a safe ride home after enjoying some nightlife.”

For more information visit northforkareatransit.com/nitelift. To schedule a ride or for questions, contact the North Fork Area Transit office at 402-379-4595.

Public Open House