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Bus service streamlines transportation to agencies

July 06, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- A local nonprofit organization has started a bus service that is expected to pick up where public transit leaves off.

Called Community Action Transit, or CAT, the bus service was started Jan. 2 by the Washington County Community Action Council (CAC) to provide door-to-door transportation for participants in day programs for disabled adults at Horizon Goodwill, Star Community and Lycher, program coordinator Jacqueline Crabtree said.

In the downtime between the morning and afternoon trips, the service takes requests for special trips, such as physical therapy visits and doctors' appointments, for a fee, Crabtree said.

The service isn't limited to people with disabilities, but it is geared toward people not eligible for other medical transport programs and who cannot use public transit, whether because of route limitations or a need for more individual assistance than standard bus service provides, Crabtree said.

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"What we want to do is ... reach out to the community and help solve some of the transportation problems," she said.

The service is closely coordinated with the county's transportation services and has helped relieve some of the pressure on them, Kevin D. Cerrone, Washington County's director of transportation, told the Washington County Commissioners June 23 during a lunch meeting to update them on the service.

CAT grew out of a suggestion from the Disability Advisory Committee, a group that advises the commissioners on issues pertaining to people with disabilities, CAC Executive Director Dave Jordan said.

The committee noticed that several programs were running separate vehicles to pick up participants who lived in the southern and western parts of the county, where the County Commuter does not run, committee chairwoman Peggy Martin said.

"All of them were picking up clients on virtually the same routes at the same time every day," Martin said.

CAT was designed to eliminate that duplication by coordinating the routes for several programs, she said.

Martin, who has served on a transportation advisory committee at the state level, helped identify grant money that could be used to fund the new service, and CAC agreed to host the program, Martin said.

The program was able to purchase two small buses, and scheduling and routing software through a grant of about $110,000 from the New Freedom Program, a Federal Transit Administration program aimed at improving transportation options for people with disabilities, Jordan said.

Another two buses were donated by United Cerebral Palsy and one was donated by the Commission on Aging, Jordan said.

CAT charges the organizations and the special trip passengers to cover the cost of drivers, fuel and other operating expenses, Jordan said.

The program recently was notified that it was approved for another grant that will allow it to purchase two more buses, Jordan said. That grant, for $106,000, was part of a federal program known as Section 5310, which provides funding to help nonprofit groups meet the transportation needs of the elderly and people with disabilities.

It probably will take nine months to a year to get the new buses, Jordan said.

As the service becomes more established and adds to its fleet, officials hope other agencies and organizations will begin using it, Jordan said.

Craig MacLean, executive director of Horizon Goodwill Industries, said the service has gone smoothly so far and he would recommend it to other agencies that contract out transportation services.

MacLean said Goodwill switched to CAT from its previous transportation provider because of CAT's focus on coordinating with other agencies.

The cost is comparable to what Goodwill was paying the previous providers, and MacLean said he anticipated CAT's costs would go down as it became more established.

Demand for special trips for individuals and groups has been high, but the cost makes it difficult unless the person has a funding source, Crabtree said. The buses cost $15 an hour to operate, she said.

In some cases, CAC is able to refer an individual to another agency that will pay for the transportation.

Others have been able to afford the service by arranging trips as a group, Crabtree said.

Martin said she hopes the program eventually will become more affordable for individuals, and said she would like to see CAT become the county's official provider of medical assistance transportation.

"I look for this program to be around for a long time," she said.

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