Gary DeGolyer has two new hips he's cautious with.
Doctors told him he'd never walk again, but he refused to believe that. He is walking and doing a fine job at it. He just can't walk as long or as far as he used to, but on his legs nonetheless.
For quite some time DeGolyer depended on OATS Inc. for his transportation needs because of his hips. He doesn't own a car and in the tough economic times it's honestly just two difficult for him to afford one. OATS was his lifesaver, his access to the rest of Hannibal beyond the borders of the few blocks he can handle walking in the small area between his home in the 2200 block of Broadway.
Lately though it's gotten worse. OATS has recently gone through a phase of budget cuts. They've cut routes, cut services, cut the convenience they've provided for so many years.
"Each area has been hit differently," Jill Stedem, administrative service director for OATS headquarters in Columbia Mo., said. "Many of the agencies we work with have also been affected."
Sheree Webb, who is the regional director for OATS in Northeast Missouri, which is based in Macon, said more cuts and changes could be coming in the future.
"OATS is being affected the same way as many other agencies during this economic slump," she said.
And those paying for this loss are those like DeGolyer.
"Everybody thinks OATS is for seniors, it's not. It's an economical asset for this town. There's a lot of people in this town that are low-income and us seniors, we want to work. We cannot get out to work unless we have public transportation. A lot of us don't have vehicles because of our disabilities," he said. "They've slashed several buses where a lot of us can't get to work and a lot of us can't afford to take cabs every day to work. Especially when you're making minimum wage. When you're making minimum wage and you're not getting 100 percent on disability — you have to live somehow."
DeGolyer is currently unemployed because of his inability to get to the job he held at the Hannibal Career Center. An illness also played a role, however, it was mostly transportation that held him back from maintaining his position.
"I can't get there," he said. "They did not fire me. They just said we have to get somebody else because it's a grant through the senior program from the career center. One cab service here has one cab. The other one, they're pretty reliable, but on busy days you have to wait hours ... a lot of us can't afford it."
"It could cost them their job," Webb said of those who rely on OATS, "which I am very sorry for."
Page 2 of 2 - Stedem emphasized the OATS budget issues are not affecting every single area of the state. She said the St. Louis region is good because of support in St. Louis County. However, in the Northwest Missouri area of St. Joseph the situation is worse than Hannibal's. Stedem said Hannibal is not as bad as others.
"This town is big enough for public service and I've heard people say that they tried it years ago. The town's grown since then. Instead of spending money that this town doesn't need to be spending on — a lot of these demolitions downtown," DeGolyer said. "Why do we have to go to Illinois or other cities to get things done here? They're spending money uselessly on a lot of these projects they're doing. I see everyday people going down Broadway on the electric chairs, handicapped people. The sidewalks out here are horrible, you can't ride on them. One of these days it's going to be a liability because someone's going to get hit and get majorly hurt or killed. I know that they're projecting for downtown because of tourism. What about the rest of the town? It could help people get to work."