Morgan buys SUVs to transport seniors, deliver meals
By Michael Wetzel
The Morgan County Commission is purchasing eight new Toyota SUVs built in Limestone County at a total cost of $218,000 to transport residents to senior centers and deliver meals to homebound residents.
For the last six years, the North Alabama Regional Council of Governments used shuttle buses for transportation to senior centers and for meal deliveries, but the shuttle buses also provided transportation for the general public. Morgan County used the buses for public transportation before NARCOG took over.
NARCOG dropped public transportation for residents outside of Decatur in October. The County Commission’s decision not to take over the public transport role means it can no longer use the buses, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation.
ALDOT said the county’s new policy does not fall under the scope of “public transportation” and the county can no longer use the buses that were purchased with federal funds.
“When Morgan County limited the use of the buses it no longer met the requirements in the agreement we had,” said ALDOT spokeswoman Allison Green.
Green said ALDOT is advertising the buses for sale to other entities and Morgan County will receive 20% of the proceeds on one of the buses.
“If that vehicle is sold for less than $5,000, Morgan County will receive the full amount of the proceeds,” she said.
County Commission Chairman Ray Long said the county no longer transports residents to locations such as grocery stores or doctors’ offices because of a lack of demand.
On Tuesday, the County Commission accepted a low bid of $218,000 from Serra Toyota of Decatur to purchase eight 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross LE SUVs, which comes to $27,250 per vehicle.
The only other bid submitted was $291,480 from Lynn Layton Ford of Decatur. Money for the SUVs is coming out of the general fund, Long said. Any money received from the sale of a bus will be returned to the general fund.
He said the Toyotas are being produced at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Limestone County and he is expecting delivery of the vehicles in December. In the meantime, NARCOG will continue to deliver frozen meals to the county’s homebound residents.
“These Toyotas aren’t foreign-made vehicles,” Long said. “They’re made right across the river by people who live in Morgan County. We have a lot of residents who work over there. We helped lure Mazda
Toyota to locate here with our incentives. Now we’re helping them sell vehicles. It’s helping our local economy, and it’s a big deal for Serra Toyota.”
The Cross LE models are rated at 29 to 31 miles per gallon in the city and 32 to 33 on the highway with a beginning sticker price of $24,785, according to the Toyota website.
Long said the SUVs will be white and the county’s Commission on Aging logo will be affixed to the side of each vehicle. He said the four-door SUVs will seat four people, plus a driver.
Once the vehicles arrive, eight county drivers will deliver hot meals to the homebound residents and take seniors to their respective centers. Long said the vehicles will be stored in the communities they serve. He said the county is looking for two more part-time drivers. The jobs pay $12.50 an hour, five days a week.
He said the shuttle buses, operated by NARCOG for the past six years, would require more maintenance and not be as dependable as the new vehicles and the county would need a couple of spare buses in case of a breakdown.
“We shouldn’t have any maintenance issues for several years and they will be large enough to handle residents needing rides. It will be more economical to deliver the meals,” he said.
Decatur continues to contract with NARCOG to provide public transportation to its residents.
Meanwhile, Lawrence County restarted its public transportation service in October. Lawrence residents needing public transportation should call 256-974-2488 at least 24 hours in advance and by 2 p.m. Friday for a Monday pickup