NOR to hand over shuttle service for disabled, elderly to GET | News

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A door-to-door transportation service whose pending closure had threatened to strand local disabled and elderly passengers is being taken over by Bakersfield’s public bus system.

Starting July 1, Golden Empire Transit District plans to offer the same type of shuttle service that has been available for more than 23 years through the North of the River Recreation and Park District.

Concurrent with the shutdown of NOR’s CTSA system, which stands for Consolidated Transportation Services Agency, GET’s On-Demand Assist service will operate seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and cost $3 per ride until Jan. 1. That’s when a new fare schedule will take effect based on the length of the ride. CTSA’s existing service costs $2 per ride.

“I think the community is going to get even better service now,” said Monya Jameson, NOR’s general manager.

The end of CTSA had raised concern, not only among its customers, who numbered 900 before the pandemic, but also within local social service agencies. The Kern Council of Governments tried repeatedly to find an alternative agency to take over the service until GET and NOR worked out a tentative deal in mid-October.

CTSA had operated on a $1.1 million budget that covered wages for five full-time employees and 14 part-timers, as well as a 23-vehicle fleet. NOR delivered about 4,000 rides through 2019, but it began to struggle with financial strains caused by increased costs and a heavier workload.

The service has been available to people age 60 and older and those who need a wheelchair or are otherwise unable to use a fixed-route bus service.

Convenience is a big distinction between conventional fixed-route service and the kind of service offered by CTSA and GET’s planned On-Demand Assist services. Fixed-route service requires that passengers wait at a bus stop until the vehicle arrives, and they get dropped off at designated stop.

But CTSA service is arranged ahead of time so that the bus driver picks up passengers at their location, helps them get onto the bus and then takes them to their location, regardless of its proximity to a fixed stop, as long as it’s in the Bakersfield area.

Qualified customers may start booking reservations for service immediately, though actual ride information isn’t expected to be available until June 27. A smartphone app is expected to be introduced in October for making or canceling ride reservations.

Pets are not allowed onboard unless kept in an enclosed carrier. GET monthly passes do not apply; fares must be paid with cash, and drivers will not provide change.

GET is asking its new passengers to exercise patience because there may be other people seated on the same on-demand shuttle who are also waiting to be dropped off at their destination. It added that the first to board won’t necessarily be the first to disembark. It noted, as well, that GET continues to be short of drivers.

CTSA passenger Jane Cothern, a retired speech pathologist who relies on a wheelchair because of a workplace injury, was initially skeptical of the transition to GET after being mistakenly informed by a NOR employee that the remaining balance on her CTSA fare card would not be refunded or transferrable to GET service.

After learning Thursday of an offer by Jameson to refund unused balances, Cothern said she expects a positive transition to GET’s ride service.

“I think it’ll be a good change,” she said.

CTSA customers who want to use GET’s service will need to file an application, which is available at the bus district’s headquarters, 1830 Golden State Ave. Income limits apply. Information on GET’s new service is available online at Getbus.org or by calling 661-869-2438.

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