The Decorah City Council has unanimously approved a $14,000 allocation toward a program that provides reduced-price rides with Hometown Taxi for Decorah citizens age 60 and older.

Mary Ann Humpal, director of the Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation, and Scott Idstrom of Hometown Taxi presented the funding request during Monday night's Council meeting. City Manager Chad Bird said Hometown Taxi and NEICAC had submitted their letters requesting support prior to the Council's budget work session last month when other requests were considered, but it had been misplaced by city staff.

Humpal said for the past 20 years the city has been providing up to $14,000 to assist seniors with discounted rides. For fiscal year 2013, Hometown Taxi provided 9,333 rides to seniors. NEICAC matches the city's contribution for a total of $28,000 for the program ,and that allows the taxi service to charge $1.50 less for their one-way fare.

Humpal said other local taxi services have contacted NEICAC about becoming part of the program, and she said they have been provided with the application that must be completed to be eligible. The business must provide proof of $1 million in insurance coverage, and drivers must be pre-screened for drugs and undergo random drug testing.

Hometown Taxi was able to "gradually" meet the requirements that could be "tough" for a new transit service, according to Humpal.

Humpal and Idstrom were asked what happens once the program funding runs out.

Idstrom said Hometown Taxi has absorbed the difference in the past, although that's something the business tries to avoid "if we can help it."

Humpal said NEICAC also has tried to cover the difference for several years, but the agency's funding eventually "got squeezed."

Idstrom said Hometown Taxi has considered reducing the discount from $1.50 to $1.25 to accommodate the discounted rides within the $28,000 allocated by NEICAC and the city.

Not a subsidy

Idstrom said he's concerned the city's allocation is considered a Hometown Taxi subsidy by some members of the public.

"It's (the funding) for our part of this program ... this isn't a transit subsidy," he said.

"It's a senior subsidy," Humpal said.

"We don't have any access to those funds," Idstrom added.

Council member Jody Niess said Hometown Taxi provides an "excellent service" and joked that at least 9,000 of the discounted rides were to her salon, Eclips.

"I don't know what our ladies would do without you," she said.