Ride plan for senior citizens debated

Monday, November 17, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:54 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the quiet, little town of Westbrook, Maine, older residents receive rides for their daily errands through a transportation network that provides door-to-door service at relatively low cost.

The Boone County Senior Board, citing a growing need for senior transportation service in the county, hopes to use Westbrook’s Independent Transportation Network as the model for a service here. Board Director Ann Gowans said she likes the Westbrook system, which relies on volunteers with private vehicles and paid drivers with donated cars, according to its Web site.

“It seems to me this kind of thing is the way to go,” Gowans told fellow board members at a meeting last week.

The Westbrook network operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It plans rides in advance and encourages older residents to share rides when possible. Employing all those strategies, it provides about 16,000 rides each year, according to the Web site. “I think it is perfectly possible in this vicinity to get that kind of volume,” Gowans said.

The Westbrook network, originally funded by the Federal Transit Administration as a national model in 1997, has operated without government support since July 1, 2001.

The board hopes a pilot program of a similar nature in Boone County will make enough of an impression that grant money might become available to support it in the early stages.

For now, however, it has two big issues to tackle: money and insurance.

The nonprofit program in Maine solved those problems, in part, by requiring senior residents to pay membership dues and to open accounts through which they are billed by the mile for rides. The Maine network has an annual budget of $255,000.

“If we can get this going and make it work (here),” Gowans said, “that will be a model for the rest of the state.”

Meanwhile, the Boone County Council on Aging is gathering information on older residents’ transportation needs.

Director Lois Shelton said the council plans to “come up with some fairly solid data within a month.”

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