As Transportation Needs of Seniors Stretch Community Resources Everywhere, Pomona Valley Transit and Community Senior Services in California have a Solution

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Community Based Transportation Service in Claremont California is Newest Adaptation of Successful TRIP Volunteer Driver Model

The Pomona Valley Transportation Authority (PVTA) and Community Senior Services (CSS), a non-profit agency in Claremont California have introduced an innovative volunteer driver transportation service that squarely targets the aging in place, stranded without options dilemma that is increasingly becoming a senior mobility challenge, as reported in a recent article by Transportation for America (T4 America).

According to George L. Sparks, PVTA Administrator, “The ‘Get About’ service is the primary transportation resource for seniors and individuals with disabilities in the Pomona Valley.” He says, ‘Travel to communities outside of the Pomona Valley for shopping and to a neighboring county for medical services has long been a need identified as an important transportation issue by both the community and PVTA.” Sparks says that the distance involved made most options prohibitively expensive.

Sparks says, “Another challenge faced by PVTA was to provide service to riders who, because of physical frailty or cognitive disability, were unable to use a door-to-door service like Get About without an escort. After reviewing many other approaches it became clear to PVTA that a volunteer driver program was the most cost effective, convenient and humane way of addressing the two most pressing needs identified by both PVTA and our riders.”

Sandee Hayden, Director of Community Connections says, “CSS’ 35 year history of volunteer services and of finding solutions for the transportation issues of seniors and the disabled made us well-qualified to be the lead agency in a volunteer driver program.” Hayden adds, “We know that a friend may help once or twice when asked for assistance with transportation, but when mileage reimbursement is available they will help more often.”

PVTA and Community Senior Services agreed to work together to design the new service for the Pomona Valley to be named “Community Connections Volunteer Driver Program” and to be operated by Community Senior Services with funding support from PVTA. According to Sparks, “It is important to involve as many parts of your community as possible in the development and support of a volunteer driver project. Community Connections is successful because it is a partnership of a non-profit and a public transit agency that brings the resources, skills and strengths of both organizations to the project.”

Hayden says, “We knew that it would take a community to make a volunteer driver program possible.” Sparks says, “The initial impetus for Community Connections came from the results of community transportation forums that included social service agencies, healthcare providers, cities and other community groups. These groups remain engaged in the program by serving on the project steering committee, the eligibility determination committee and by acting as a referral network for both riders and potential volunteers.”

According to Hayden, “It took four years from our initial decision to bring a volunteer driver program to Pomona Valley to identifying funding partners to launch the program. We engaged local partners in the process of evaluating models of volunteer driver programs and sources of funds.

PVTA and CSS reviewed several volunteer driver programs before settling on the TRIP model which we found through the Beverly Foundation. The TRIP volunteer driver program was started and has been operating in Riverside County since 1993 by the Independent Living Partnership (ILP). Last year the Riverside service provided 92,843 one-way trips and 1.3 million miles of escorted transportation at a $5.74 cost per trip to ILP.

Sparks says, “At first, we were skeptical about the idea of riders recruiting their own drivers, but as we reviewed the performance data from TRIP we were very impressed by the model’s ability to generate so many rides and its cost effectiveness. We started to understand how providing riders a small stipend for mileage empowers them to approach their friends and neighbors for help with transportation, because now they have something to offer them in return.”

Sparks says, “Probably the biggest obstacle to starting a program like this is finding the initial funding necessary to get started. It is sometimes difficult to get traditional funding sources for transportation to appreciate that volunteers can be a legitimate way to serve their clients.”
Hayden says: “The 2009 Federal Transportation Authorities call for projects, specifically recognized Volunteer Driver Programs, provided the source for funding our TRIP based volunteer driver program, and Community Connections, a partnership with PVTA, CSS, TRIP and our community, was launched in December 2010.”

Community Connections, mirroring the TRIP model, provides door-through-door service to riders and helps with socialization for home bound isolated seniors and individuals with disabilities. Already, only 2 months after beginning to provide rides, Community Connections is now serving 37 riders, who previously were unable to make the trips they needed.

When asked what the transportation service means to Angela, the first Community Connections rider, she responded, “It’s a blessing!” The 63-year-old woman, who relocated to Pomona to become her Mom’s caregiver following eye surgery, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Angela herself is now in need of assistance with her transportation to radiation treatments. A family friend, Rodney volunteers to drive her to her daily cancer treatment appointments. As an eligible rider with Community Connections, Angela now has the ability to reimburse her friend for his mileage.

Another touching story is that of the family of a five year old boy fighting cancer. The transportation required for the 40 mile drive for his bi-weekly cancer treatments was stretching the family emotionally and financially until Community Connections was able to assist with mileage reimbursements.

Community Connections is also helping Jay, a 74 year old man whose health condition requires four monthly visits to his veteran medical center located in another county 40 miles from his home. Jay and his volunteer driver are sharing their life stories as they travel to receive his treatments and enjoy a meal together along the way. This connection is much more than just a ride from point A to point B.

According to Hayden, “Most of our riders tell us they just want to go shopping or run errands, much like they were able to do when they were drivers” and Community Connections makes that possible. The service provides mobility with dignity, and restores personal independence.
When asked what advice she would give to other communities to be successful in starting a TRIP model volunteer program, Hayden says. “Community is the solution to providing transportation for seniors and individuals with disabilities. Be resourceful, be patient and call upon your community partners to support the development of a volunteer driver program.”

According to Richard Smith, Executive Director of the Independent Living Partnership (ILP) that operates the original TRIP Program in Riverside County, “TRIP is a low-cost, community based transportation service that can be started and operated in almost any community, rural, suburban and in big cities too.” He says, “The success story of Community Connections should encourage communities across the country that are facing dwindling resources and burgeoning community transportation needs to think seriously about starting and operating a TRIP service too.” ILP has created a website at TRIPtrans.org for the purpose of detailing the model and also to assist other communities to implement the proven program. Other communities that are currently adapting the TRIP model include Marin and Orange Counties in California, Miami Florida and Mystic Valley Massachusetts.

The Pomona Valley Transportation Authority (PVTA) is the community transit provider for the Pomona Valley. PVTA is a joint powers agreement and was formed by the voluntary cooperation of the cities of Claremont, La Verne, Pomona and San Dimas. For the past 33 years PVTA has operated Get About Transportation which serves seniors and disabled individuals throughout the four Pomona Valley cities. It was Los Angeles County’s first subregional paratransit system and offers transportation to 20 area social service agencies serving seniors and the disabled. PVTA also operates Claremont Dial-a-Ride, Pomona Group Services and San Dimas Dial-a-Cab. Visit the PVtrans.org website.

Community Senior Services is a 501(c)3 that is providing access to essential, affordable, life enhancing services to seniors in 17 cities in western Inland Empire, Pomona Valley and eastern Los Angeles County. In 2010, Community Senior Services was awarded a Los Angeles County FTA 5317 New Freedoms grant for Community Connections Volunteer Driver program that serves the disabled residents of Claremont, La Verne, Pomona and San Dimas. The Community Connections website is communityconnections-css.org

The Independent Living Partnership (ILP) is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to helping people continue to live independently in their homes and communities. ILP has operated a TRIP model service in the 7,200 square-mile area of Riverside County California since 1993. Older adults and people with disabilities, who cannot meet their transportation needs in any other way, currently receive about 10,000 one-way trips each month. The travel is free to the rider and costs ILP about $6 per trip. More information is available at livingpartnership.org and TRIPtrans.org

New Freedom funds are a grant program of the U.S. Department of Transportation that seeks to reduce barriers to transportation services and expand the transportation mobility options available to people with disabilities beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act to overcome existing barriers for greater participation in society.

http://www.communityconnections-css.org

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