Couple in business for the short haul Van transports children, seniors

August 05, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

As parents, Joe and Chris Sappington understand the daily hassle of getting their kids to school, art classes and day care, not to mention getting themselves to work.

That's why the Elkridge couple last fall formed Saf-T-Ride Inc., a transportation service primarily for children and seniors.

"We started filling up fast," Mrs. Sappington said. "Some people called as early as November of last year for transportation during the summer."

An 11-passenger Ford Club wagon transports children to their activities and takes seniors to doctor appointments and the grocery. For children, the cost is $45 a week for five days of round-trip transportation. Seniors pay $8 for a round-trip ride and $5 for one-way trips. Saf-T-Ride charges an additional 20 cents per mile to drive south of Route 16 and west of Dayton.

Most clients come from the Laurel area, Mrs. Sappington said.

"We are trying to hold the costs down so people can afford it," she said.

"People are willing to pay for the convenience; a lot of times, however, our service is more of a necessity than a convenience," Mr. Sappington said.

Jim and Cindy Edgerton, both engineers who live in the Laurel area, were concerned about their 6-year-old, Melissa, walking the three blocks from day care to Hammond Elementary School. Her day care provider lives too close to qualify the child for school bus transportation.

"We didn't think it was safe for her to walk by herself because of all of the school traffic," Mr. Edgerton said. "We were really concerned about that and we started looking for an alternative."

They contacted Saf-T-Ride after seeing it advertised. After an initial get-acquainted meeting of Mr. and Mrs. Edgerton, Melissa and Mrs. Sappington, a contract was established for the entire school year and the problem was solved.

"I always meet with the parents and their children before any contract is arranged," Mrs. Sappington said. "I want the child to feel comfortable, as well as the parent, and I do it on their turf, wherever they choose to meet."

Most of the driving is done by Mrs. Sappington, who is behind the wheel from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m. five days a week.

Some parents have even followed Mrs. Sappington along her routes to be sure that she is a safe driver.

"That's the way it should be," she said. "As a parent, you need to feel secure that your child is getting as good transportation as if you yourself were the driver."

Saf-T-Ride provides entertainment in addition to safety. Coloring books and headphones are available for the younger children, who listen to tapes of "Old MacDonald's Farm" and "Puff the Magic Dragon." The older children may choose to listen to a favorite radio station. All selections are chosen democratically among the children.

In addition to Saf-T-Ride's 12 contract customers, others call for limited service because they say it's convenient.

Dorothy Paradise, 70, of Columbia said she uses the service to go to the doctor's office. "I used to take the URTA bus, but you can't always get it when you need it," she said. "This is really a handy service, and I'm grateful it is available."

The business also caters to groups, and Mrs. Sappington has provided trips for children's birthday parties, rides to baseball games, and even a "bachelorette" party in which 10 young women paid $10 each to be driven to a nightclub to celebrate a friend's marriage.

As the winter approaches, 10 children are already signed up to begin in September.

"Right now, we are breaking even," Mr. Sappington said. "We could go ahead in September and expand, but we are going to give it a little more time and wait until March or April."

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