One option: Rifle leans toward Parachute transit in providing rides to seniors
When Tami Sours recently came before Rifle City Council with some possible options to try to reduce costs in relation to providing senior transportation, she said, “I’m probably not going to have the answers you want.”
In November 2020, the city was told ridership within Rifle is low and costing them extra to support The Traveler, a service that brings seniors and people with disabilities to various destinations from Parachute to Carbondale. Destinations often include doctor’s visits and trips to the pharmacy.
The Traveler is also an expense that stems from a seven-party contract — or memorandum of understanding — between Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Garfield County. It’s managed by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
To ease the burden on their bottom line, the city decided to pursue potential ways it could reduce its annual allocation to The Traveler by $100,000 or less.
Sours, director of the Rifle City Senior Center, presented potential avenues the city could pursue in trying to lessen costs. The options were originally addressed by a Traveler subcommittee in early May.
One possibility is for the city to develop a volunteer driver program. With this, the city would use the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to oversee a group of volunteers responsible for taking participating seniors to their destinations.
But officials worry that taking this route could be time-consuming and not produce the amount of volunteer drivers needed to run the service on a regular basis.
“You wouldn’t want for someone to back out and miss taking someone to a doctor’s appointment,” Sours said. “So I don’t know if that’s a real positive thing that’s going to happen.”
In 2019, the city put forth a little more than $118,000 to help provide the service to senior residents. That year, there were 5,828 total boardings on a single vehicle, which also accounted for an average trip distance of 2.6 miles.
The next option would be for the city to possibly pay for and use the Parachute Area Transit System. This would be in lieu of the city possibly developing its own senior busing system.
“The only thing that I could say is, for us to pay them to do it, they’re taking all the liability, work comp, maintenance of buses …,” Sours said.
Sours said it’s worth paying an annual fee into the Parachute system, because “I don’t know what it’s going to cost to take this program over and how many people we’re going to hire to run it.”
Mayor Barbara Clifton agreed.
“I don’t think we want to run our own bus system, and it’s way too late to figure out something like that this year for next year,” she said.
There are concerns with opting into PATS, however. It’s unknown if the buses actually pick up seniors or people with disabilities at their residences, or if they will have to walk to the nearest pick-up areas.
Meanwhile, the largest concern is that riders will still have to pay fees to use the service, which could affect lower-income riders.
So far, the council has entertained the notion of negotiating with RFTA, which could possibly limit it to a certain amount of rides per month. In addition, the negotiation could set rules that limit destinations to doctor appointments, pharmaceutical visits and other essential destinations.
Right now, riders can still request rides to nonessential places.
“We don’t, in my mind, need to figure out how to get them to the beauty shop or the coffee shop or their volunteer work,” Clifton said. “Not that those things aren’t valuable … but I don’t know, as a taxpayer, that that’s how I want my money spent.”
The city will continue discussions with transit officials and stakeholders, and more information will be presented before the council later in June.
“If we have an abundance of seniors in our community that need a ride, we’ve got to figure out a way to give them a ride,” council member Clint Hostettler said.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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