Idaho partnership breaks public transportation barriers
In rural Idaho, senior and disabled citizens can be stranded in their homes without transportation to the grocery store or the doctors office. Without access to vital services, many are forced to move from their homes into managed care facilities.
But in six eastern Idaho counties, an innovative pilot project is making rides available to people who need them most.
The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) was instrumental in leading an effort to provide door-to-door transportation service to seniors and qualified disabled people. Through the Interagency Working Group (IWG), a coalition of state and local agencies works to coordinate transportation services for similar user groups.
With operational guidance and funding assistance from the Idaho Transportation Department, Pocatello Regional Transit (PRT) provides door-to-door transportation service to seniors and qualified disabled people. The pilot project serves a four-county area, and soon will expand into two additional counties.
The key word here is independence, says Dave Hunt, PRT Operations Manager. It allows them (seniors) the independence to get where they need to go to a hair appointment, medical appointment, shopping, visits things they really want to do, without being a burden to family or neighbors.
In 2003, the Access pilot program carried 23,000 people; approximately 4,000 of these were wheelchair passengers. People with disabilities can apply by filling out a simple form, and all seniors 60 and older automatically qualify. Riding Access simply requires a one-day advance reservation and a one-dollar fare; clients can travel anywhere within a four-county area.
Its a one-bus, one-phone call strategy, says Larry Falkner, ITD Public Transportation Division Administrator. A single point of coordination means its easier for riders to use. The single oversight strategy also means improved service quality, translating into more on-time services, better vehicles and safety equipment.
The 2003 Census Supplementary Survey shows that an estimated 3.5 percent of households in Idaho had no vehicles available. This means more than 16,000 households rely on others to provide transportation.
For seniors living in rural Idaho, simply having the ability to get places they wouldnt otherwise be able to reach greatly enhances their social relationships, Hunt says. And the social relationships he sees extend beyond traditional friendships.
The driver-client relationship is not an insignificant relationship. For some of them (the senior clients), its the highlight of their day. They (the drivers) know whats going on in their (the senior clients) lives, they ask what their families are doing, they know about their surgeries.
Its kind of like those working in home health and hospice. They are important relationships not only to them, but to us, he adds. Thats the reward the relationships.
ITD works on public transportation issues with other state agencies the Division of Medicaid, Commission on Aging, Department of Health and Welfare, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Labor, Department of Education, Council on Developmental Disabilities, Idaho Head Start Association and the Governors office.
In the end, PRT is expected to evolve into a model for other transit agencies, Falkner says. We plan on taking the things we have learned from this project to other areas of the state.
Photo caption: Senior citizens and other special needs
populations in the Pocatello area enjoy their independence, thanks to
a model public transportation project.