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Door-to-door bus service offered for seniors

November 01, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- For seniors who value their independence but no longer drive, getting out of the house can be an awesome challenge.

Now, because of an agreement between the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (Pan Tran) and Jefferson County Council on Aging (JCCOA), they can ride a public-service bus.

By making a simple phone call the day before, they can board a van at their home, be driven to where they want to go and back home again.

Passengers ages 60 and older and those with Medicare cards can ride free or make a donation.

"Everybody else pays $5.50," said Kathy Mason, Pan Tran's operations manager.

Betsy Waters, the agency's interim director, calls the service "demand response." Under the agreement, Pan Tran took over the JCCOA's three vans and hired its drivers, Waters said.

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Demand service is limited in Berkeley County to passengers who live within 1 1/2 miles of Pan Tran's regular bus routes.

"In Jefferson County, we can go anywhere," Waters said.

Money for the program comes from a $93,000 federal Freedom Fund grant, plus $62,000 in matching funds from Pan Tran, she said.

Pan Tran also has received a $1 million federal stimulus fund grant to build an addition to its office building and garage on Novak Road south of Martinsburg.

The agency operates on an annual budget of about $900,000. Its funding sources include, in round numbers, $343,000 in federal grants; $145,000 in subsidies from Berkeley and Jefferson counties and their municipalities that are served by the buses; $340,000 in contract bus services; plus $50,000 in rider fees.

According to a proclamation making November Public Transit Month that Waters presented to the Jefferson County Commissioners last week, PanTran's 11 23-passenger buses and six 12-passenger vans drove 292,065 miles, making 160,436 passenger trips in both counties last year.

About half of Pan Tran's passengers are seniors or people on Medicare, Mason said. About one-third are Shepherd University students.

The buses are handicapped-accessible. About 6,600 handicapped and 2,600 wheelchair-bound passengers board the buses each year, she said.

Pan Tran's three regular bus runs include the Red Line, which covers north and south of Martinsburg; the Blue Line, which runs from Martinsburg to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and the Orange Line, which carries passengers from the medical center to Jefferson County destinations.

Pan Tran makes two runs daily to Shepherd University. The bus remains on campus all day to ferry students back and forth between the West and East campuses.

It also provides bus service to students at St. Joseph's Parish School in Martinsburg.

"We serve the entire community, from seniors to the disabled, students, people going shopping and to medical appointments," Waters said.

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