Seniors to pay for shuttle service

$2 round-trip fee to offset cost of expanding service, county officials say

April 13, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Anne Arundel seniors and disabled residents who take the free county shuttle to doctors' appointments, grocery stores and senior centers will have to pay for the service starting this summer, county officials said.

The $2 fee for a round-trip ride will offset the cost of expanding the overburdened service, said Wayne Taylor, director of the Department of Aging and Disabilities.

"Currently we are 100 percent dependent on county government, and I think riders have to share the cost," Taylor said yesterday. "And we are going to charge everybody, no ifs, ands or buts about it."

Taylor said he is considering some form of relief for seniors who can't afford to pay. "We are not raising money just to raise money," Taylor said. "It's about making the transportation service better."

Last week, a transition team for County Executive John R. Leopold recommended that the county begin charging financially independent seniors for transportation and food provided by the Department of Aging to ensure those services will remain available to "the most needy."

"The reality is that people are living a lot longer. They are working a lot longer. There ought to be a needs-based test," Leopold said last week.

"Taxpayers don't expect us to be subsidizing the affluent."

The county spends $2.4 million annually to operate the van service for people ages 55 and up and the disabled. About 5,100 passengers take about 100,000 rides on 39 vans each year. Taylor said the service is overburdened and will likely be expanded, if enough revenue is generated from the new fee.

Starting in July, passengers will be charged $1 to be picked up and another $1 to be dropped off at the same location - trips in between the final destination will be free.

Taylor said he is also looking into billing insurance companies for transporting patients.

But at least one Annapolis senior who is on Medicare said she would have to pay for the service herself.

Geraldine Delores Kirby Jones, 72, is a double amputee who gets dialysis treatments at least three times per week. The retired government worker lives on about $900 per month, and spends about $200 on prescriptions. She would have to pay at least $36 extra per month to use the county van.

"I don't have the extra money to spend. I wish I did," she said. "It's going to be bad for me. It's a brand new expense. I haven't figured out what I have to cut back on."

The change could send more riders to Annapolis Transit, which offers an on-demand Brown route service. Though the city's bus system is facing a potential budget shortfall that could lead to cutbacks in county routes, Danielle Matland, director of Annapolis Transit, praised the county's decision.

"I am in full support, and I think what he's trying to do is excellent," she said. "It's a categorical change in perspective and a good use of public resources."

Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.

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