Service welcomes wheelchair users

Company is the city’s only handicapped-accessible transportation service that travels out of Columbia.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:32 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jeannette Payne doesn’t measure success by how much money her business brings in. If she did, her latest venture might be considered a disappointment.

Instead, Have Wheels Will Travel Inc. succeeds by filling a niche in the community, she said.

There are 9,000 wheelchair users in Columbia, but Have Wheels Will Travel is the only company offering accessible transportation out of Columbia since Mo-X bought out Tiger Air Express and didn’t buy its handicapped-accessible vehicles.

In April, Romanda Walker complained to Mo-X about its lack of accessibility. The company had referred her to OATS Inc., assuming it was an equivalent service, but OATS doesn’t provide travel to sites outside the county.

OATS, which receives funding from the Missouri departments of Transportation and Mental Health, requires special arrangements to transport clients to the airport, OATS manager Jack Heusted said.

Even though Have Wheels Will Travel is the only company offering this service, Payne said, it has not expanded the way she thought it would.

“The reason I got into this business was because Mo-X didn’t have the service,” she said. “I had a board member at my old job who needed to get to the airport, and they couldn’t service them.”

Payne and co-owner Carol McDowell’s mission is to give wheelchair users transportation that fits their needs. Service within Columbia costs $40, while rides to Jefferson City cost $65, and rides to places like St. Louis and Kansas City cost $200.” My goal is not to transport you in Columbia,” she said. “You have paratransit (service from the city) for that. I want to be able to get you to the theaters in Kansas City, or to Amtrak, or the zoo, places you don’t get to go every day. That’s our goal. We want to give you the freedom to go anywhere you want to go and when you want to go.”

Matt Nack and Dawn Zeterberg are both clients of Have Wheels Will Travel but characterize their use of the service as infrequent.

“I generally use the city bus system,” Nack said. “But there are certain instances where I need to be at a certain place during off hours, and Jeannette is more flexible.” On May 11, the company celebrated its first anniversary, but business hasn’t picked up the way Payne expected. Last month, the van made eight runs, while the month before it made only four.

Have Wheels Will Travel has operated in the red since its inception. Each month, insurance for its van costs drastically more than the company grosses.

“I’ll work my second job until this one gets off the ground. I still think it’s a good idea,” Payne said. It was Payne’s job as a personal-care assistant for hospice patients dying of cancer that led her to discover the need for handicapped transportation in Columbia. Nack said he and Zeterberg would recommend Have Wheels Will Travel to other wheelchair users. “It gives myself and others who are limited in mobility a lot more flexibility,” he said. “And Jeannette is nice, efficient and compassionate.”

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