Despite Baltimore County's ongoing financial problems, the Department of Aging is expanding service on its Countyride minibus system for senior citizens while reducing the cost to the county.
Under the new rules, seniors will, for the first time, be permitted to use the vans for transportation to county senior centers.
In addition, seniors and disabled people will no longer be limited to riding within the area of the county in which they live. There are five such zones now.
Riders may now go anywhere in the county for a $2.50 one-way ticket, or into the city for medical appointments for $5 one way.
Those who need an escort need no longer pay extra if their escort is preregistered.
Dr. Philip Pushkin, director of the county's programs for seniors, said he also plans to divide the county's 25-vehicle fleet and station the minivans throughout the county to make them more quickly available.
All the vans are now parked in a central Timonium location.
The key to the service improvements was the removal of state Medicaid patients from the program. They are now taken by a private company under contract to the state Health Department.
The change, Dr. Pushkin said, freed enough seats to allow expanded service for other users.
About 80 percent of the 4,300 people registered for the Countyride program use the vans to go to medical appointments.
Arnold Eppel, deputy director of the seniors programs, said the vans make 145,000 trips a year.
Dr. Pushkin said he hopes to eliminate the county's $100,000 yearly subsidy by getting area hospitals to contribute to operating expenses.
He noted that the vans take up to 200 passengers a day to those hospitals, which he said should be willing to chip in for the service.
In addition to the $430,000 in ticket sales, the program earns money by selling advertising space on the vehicles.
It costs $1 million a year to operate the system, with half the money coming from federal and state grants.