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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Guam officials said Friday that $1.3 million in federal military and veteran assistance grants awarded this week by the Department of Transportation will be used to upgrade the territory’s struggling public transit system.

The money will be used to create a dispatch office and website as well as a physical disabilities center that will link residents with various transportation providers, including public busing, private charities and possibly taxi services, according to the Guam Regional Transportation Authority.

Guam won the grant to help servicemembers and veterans there who might be “highly impacted by limited access to public transit options,” according to the grant award issued this week. The territory was one of 55 military-related public transportation projects across the country that won a total of $34.6 million in competitive grants from the Department of Transportation, the agency said Thursday.

Ginger Porter, a board member of the Guam transportation authority, said there has been some indication that Guam veterans are having trouble getting to the Veterans Affairs clinic but the agency needs to determine whether there is more need among the military community, which includes Andersen Air Base and Naval Base Guam, as well as thousands of Guamanians who have served in the military.

“We knew we had the population but we weren’t sure about the need,” Porter said.

Overall, the isolated island has struggled with maintaining a dated public transportation system as well as keeping up hospitals, schools and public utilities, and it often relies on federal grants for improvements.

Porter said the project is worthy despite the deep financial concerns in the federal government and the looming threat of cuts to defense and other priorities.

“Our transportation system is in very bad shape for anybody,” she said.

She said the new call center and website will help boost the flagging current system by introducing new technology such as a real-time public bus locator system and onboard tablet computers for bus drivers.

“Based on what I know of where our transportation services are here, this is only one piece” that is needed to bring up the standards, Porter said.

The Guam Regional Transportation Authority currently has a website with public bus routes listed in detail but Rally Pilipina, the authority’s planner and grant writer, said the new system will be different.

“We will have the transportation providers on Guam using that dispatching area,” Pilipina said.

The call center and website will allow the public to call the dispatch system or go online to arrange the type of transport they need, such as non-emergency medical trips, Pilipina said.

The system will cost $305,000 and be temporarily set up in the existing transportation authority offices, he said.

Meanwhile, the remaining $1 million in grant money will be used as partial funding for a physical disabilities center on the island that will help residents with special needs and eventually be the permanent location of the transportation coordination center, Philipina said.

For now, it is unclear when the entire project will be completed because the disabilities center is still searching for funding, he said.

But Guam residents could be able to dial up a ride reservation using the new service within the next six months to one year, according to Porter.


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