Tackling transportation for Williamsburg seniors

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

By 10 a.m., Lee Koob had already driven three people to or from medical appointments.

A driver for the Peninsula Agency on Aging's RIDES service, Koob had eight more rides on the day's schedule.

Next up was Ruth Lasko, a resident at Commonwealth Senior Living at Williamsburg, on her way to a dentist appointment. Lasko said she utilizes RIDES to supplement Commonwealth's transportation service.

"It's handy that (RIDES is) available," she said.

From July 2015 to June 2016, RIDES provided 7,612 one-way trips, said Gerald Patesel, PAA's director of community services. Williamsburg Area Faith in Action's senior transportation service provided 8,843, according to executive director Rita Smith.

"There's a great need, when you look at the growing number of our senior population, and it's just going to continue to grow," Smith said. "If we want our seniors to be engaged in the community, transportation is essential."

Available transportation services target different needs.

"It's not something that we can just do by ourselves," Patesel said. "It's a lot of working together that goes on to make it work for everyone."

The RIDES program, for one, provides only non-emergency medical transportation. Patesel said this could include routine doctor or dentist appointments, physical therapy, rehab or dialysis, among other needs. Six paid drivers provide "door-to-door" transportation throughout Greater Williamsburg in Peninsula Agency on Aging's vans, equipped with wheelchair lifts and raised roofs.

Those eligible for RIDES must be over age 60, not eligible for Medicaid transportation, without access to public transportation and without funds for private transportation.

"We are kind of for those that might fall through the cracks if we weren't there," Patesel said. "And that's the purpose of the whole program."

The program provided by Williamsburg's Faith in Action is not limited to medical transportation. Smith said, for seniors who've lost the ability to drive, the program enables them to get to the places they've always gone, such as the salon, the library, the grocery store.

Faith in Action volunteers provide what Smith called "door-through-door" transportation, staying by the senior's side from inside of the home, through the doctor's appointment, for example, and back home. The services are free, available to those older than 60.

Now, 175 volunteers provide transportation services through Faith in Action, but Smith said this number is an "all time low," and the need continues to grow.

The services often provide much more than simply shuttling, as repeated use means relationships formed.

"You pretty much get to know your clients," Koob said. He enjoys meeting new people on the job.

The Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) offers a ParaTransit service that, though not specific to seniors, is available to individuals with disabilities preventing them from accessing bus stops or riding standard buses independently.

"ParaTransit services provide door-to-door transportation, as long as it's within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed route," said Todd Tyree, WATA's executive director.

Individuals must apply to receive approval for the service.

And Tyree said that, from WATA's perspective, "we will continue to expand and develop our capacity in order to prepare for what we expect this community to look like in 10 to 20 years."

The Williamsburg Health Foundation has partnered with these three organizations — Faith in Action, Peninsula Agency on Aging and WATA — to develop a one-call transportation center.

"Right now, we may have a senior who uses the RIDES program for transportation to dialysis, but they're using Faith in Action for transportation for grocery shopping," Smith said.

She said the "one-call system" would allow seniors to dial one phone number with their transportation need, and the operator would then dispatch the request to the appropriate agency.

To help develop the system, Williamsburg Health Foundation hired a consultant who conducted national and local research, made recommendations and helped develop a budget for the center, according to Kyra Cook, the foundation's director of strategic initiatives and program officer. The foundation also helped secure a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit that will fund the center.

Patesal said a mobility manager could be hired in October to coordinate the center, with the service hopefully launched within a year.

"We work together, because the need is so great neither one of us could do it alone," Smith said. "It takes the village to keep our seniors independent."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Transit services

PAA RIDES

To schedule a ride, call ahead to 757-345-6166 during office hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Rides are available Monday through Friday, at a $4 one-way fee. For more information, visit paainc.org.

Faith In Action Transportation Program

To schedule a ride, call 757-258-5890 during office hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Rides are free, available Sunday through Saturday, and must be scheduled at least two business days in advance. For more information, visit wfia.org.

WATA Paratransit

To schedule a ride, call 757-220-5493 at least one business day in advance. The service operates during the same days and hours as fixed route serves, and the cost through Oct. 10 is $2 per trip. For more information, visit gowata.org.

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