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Program could give disabled a needed lift

October 29, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The fixed-route bus service of the former Chambersburg Transit Authority is a thing of the past, but the Franklin County Integrated Transportation System is seeking a state grant to expand public transportation to more disabled residents.

The system is seeking a Persons With Disabilities (PWD) grant of more than $150,000 through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to expand its shared ride service, which primarily serves senior citizens and those on medical assistance, said Odessa Trinkle, the system's Medical Assistance Transportation Program coordinator. If approved, the grant would be used to provide free or low-cost transportation to the disabled who do not now qualify for the subsidized service, she said.

"This program would allow people to go to work who cannot drive who are otherwise employable," Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas said. "It can help them gain independence."

"I know firsthand the need for transportation for the physically challenged," said Thomas, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy.

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Thomas cautioned that the county is competing with others for the same pool of money, though state funding has been increased.

In 2005, the county system provided 56,835 trips covering 652,154 passenger miles with a fleet of 21 12-passenger, wheelchair lift-equipped vans, Trinkle said.

Administrative Assistant Christina Burns said 180 to 260 trips are scheduled each day.

Those 60 and older pay $1.50 each way, while those on medical assistance get free transportation for medical-related appointments, Trinkle said. Rides for senior citizens are subsidized by the Department of Aging and state lottery money, while the Department of Public Welfare funds the rides for those on medical assistance, she said.

Otherwise, the unsubsidized cost of the service is $13 each way, she said.

"Persons With Disabilities is a crutch right now to supply the absolute basic need for people who cannot drive a car," said James Fennen, the life skills coordinator for ForSightVision for Franklin County, formerly the Franklin County Association for the Blind.

Fennen said he has contacted about 150 blind or low-vision residents who would be eligible for the service, but estimated there are 1,200 or more in the county who might qualify.

"It has its disadvantages and advantages," Fennen said.

While a door-to-door service, people have to call a day ahead to schedule a ride, hours of operation are limited and the wait to be picked up or returned home can be lengthy, he said.

A combination of shared ride and fixed route service, along with a taxi service with subsidies for the blind and disabled, would do much to restore their independence, Fennen said.

While most of the people he works with also are senior citizens, there also are blind or low-vision people he knows who have all of the skills needed to succeed in the workplace except for a way to get to work.

"The PWD funding is pretty flexible. It can be used for all kinds of purposes," Trinkle said.

While those on medical assistance are limited to medical-related trips, the PWD grant might be used by the disabled to go to work, go shopping or visiting.

In counties that previously have received PWD funding, "over 50 percent of the usage is for people to get back and forth from work," Trinkle said.

The Franklin County Transportation Advisory Council has been formed to work out some of those details and held its first meeting in September, Trinkle said. It will hold its next public meeting Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. in the county's Human Services Building, she said.

Fixed-route bus transportation in Franklin County ended more than two years ago when the debt-riddled Chambersburg Transit Authority ceased operations. Though it has no board of directors and no assets, it recently was sued in county court by a creditor seeking more than $100,000 for two buses that were delivered, but for which the company was never paid.

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