Neighbor Ride, a group of volunteers offering low-cost shuttle service, marks its 1,000th trip

Seniors skipping the bus opt for personalized rides

November 16, 2005|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

At 87, Shirley Lavon still owns a car, a sturdy 1988 Chevrolet. But most times when she and her friends plan an outing, they call Neighbor Ride, Howard County's one-year-old volunteer service for seniors.

Yesterday, Lavon, Pauline Biedermann, 86, Minnie Rizzo, 87, and Mildred Regester, who all live in the Owen Brown Place high-rise senior apartments in Columbia, became the service's milestone 1,000th ride.

Their destination: the county's annual Thanksgiving dinner at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville. And they were delighted to go, especially because Alison Lutz, 28, their volunteer driver, brought her 10-month-old son, Alan, along in her dark-blue minivan.

The ride service is "wonderful and very convenient, and quite reasonable," Biedermann said. The ride to Ten Oaks cost the women $2.25 each, round trip.

"I find it very, very handy, and the people are very accommodating. They have a lot of patience," said Rizzo, who, like Biedermann and Lavon, is originally from New York but lives in Columbia to be near grown children.

Colleen Konstanzer, the half-time executive director of Neighbor Ride, and the only paid staffer, said the program is flourishing, though most of its $60,000-a-year budget is covered by grants from local foundations and businesses. Only about $10,000 comes from fares.

Costs are kept low because the 60 drivers are all volunteers, as are the 10 office workers who schedule the rides.

"We're adding 10 new passengers a week," Konstanzer said, and the program schedules about 150 trips a month.

The service was two years in the planning, intended to help people 65 or older, often living on limited budgets and who have trouble using Howard Transit buses or commercial taxicabs to get around.

The idea was to help county seniors remain comfortable in their homes by providing personal transportation that's convenient and affordable.

Lutz, of Kings Contrivance, said She is a stay-at-home mother , and after moving to Columbia a year ago was looking for community service she could do while keeping her baby with her.

"It's a good way for us to get out and about and do something productive with our day," she said. She is not concerned about the gas she is using. "If I wasn't doing that, I'd probably be burning the gas running to Target," she said, laughing.

The service was formally launched a year ago at Parkview, a second, newer senior housing apartment building next to Owen Brown Place. It typically costs from $6 to $10 a ride, depending on how many ZIP codes the trip crosses. Drivers can sign up for as many days and trips as they want.

County officials believe Neighbor Ride fills a transportation gap, and users agree, whether it involves a trip to the doctor, exercise class, a dinner theater or a movie.

"I used the green [Howard Transit] buses, but I'm not much for buses," Biedermann said. "I have a pacemaker, and that doesn't allow for much bumping. It's a little bit difficult for me to climb the [bus] steps. Time takes its toll," she said.

Besides, Lavon said, getting rides in interesting vehicles is fun.

"The other day we had a lady who took us in a hybrid. It was just heaven. I fell in love with that car -- so luxurious inside, so velvety and quiet," she said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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