During the Tuesday BOCS yesterday, many citizens came forward during Citizens Time to urge the supervisors to restore a transportation system for the seniors of Prince William County. Last July 1 the county ended a bus program that transported senior citizens between Woodbridge and Manassas senior citizen centers, to doctors and hospitals , and to other spots around town. Economic downturn and shortage of revenue was given as the reason.
The senior centers provide a hot lunch and companionship for those who participate. Many seniors go to the centers to see friends, do activities and to be with people their own age. Replacement vouchers have been allocated for those seniors who don’t drive and who make less than $30,000 a year. Unfortunately, the vouchers only cover about 6 outings. According to News and Messenger:
As county revenue continues to decline, the county’s staff slashed more than $150,000 from its $254,116 senior center and adult day care transportation budget. The move forced officials to eliminate four positions, as well as sell a small fleet of 15-passenger vans used to transport seniors.
With the remaining funds, the county created a pilot voucher system that allows seniors to use taxi cabs or local transit buses to do routine tasks, such as go to the doctor, get prescriptions filled or go grocery shopping.
The board allocated $30,000 in additional funding to the new program, for a total of $130,000. Officials limited voucher recipients to those over age 55 who cannot drive, and to those who make less than $30,000 per year, or couples that make less than $40,000 annually.
The vouchers, ranging in value from $1 to $5, are few, many said. And once they are gone, there is no way for them to get to the senior center.
This move seems rather tough after the supervisors totally eliminated the Senior Day Care Center on the western end of the county. Are the supervisors targetting the most vulnerable of our citizens because they think they will make the least amount of racket? Manassas Senior Center Manager Kathy Lee-Meredith stated:
158 people used the county’s senior bus service last year, at a cost of $968 a person. It made more than 300 trips to local doctor’s offices and hospitals.
Between July and October, 50 people used the new voucher system—all of them age 55 or older and unable to drive—at a cost of $8,580.
She further indicated that many seniors have had to learn to use (and pay for) the commerical cab system as well as the local public bus. What she is leaving out is the local cab system is very expensive and the bus service is not convenient to many seniors nor does it accommodate those with physical impairments.
The county needs to come up with a better plan. If all else fails, they need to find a charity to do matching funds with citizen donations. This situation cannot continue. Mrs. Cathy Marshall, wife of Delegate Bob Marshall, has been a leader on this front. She advocates doing away with the $100,000 citizens’ survey form. That sounds like a plan. Other senior advocates are planning a protest:
From News and Messenger
Woodbridge residents Shirley Van Ess, left, Doris Bodwin and Greg Reynolds plan to board or follow the bus behind them, owned and driven by Rick Clark, to protest the Board of County Supervisors’ elimination of their affordable bus service.
Maybe the BOCS have bitten off a little more than they can chew with this one. This situation looks like an uprising of gray panthers. More power to them!
What can ordinary citizens do to help the seniors? Supervisor Frank Principi is spearheading an effort to replace this service. How many other supervisors have signed on with him to rescue the senior citizens who don’t drive or might not have the means to continue their activities?
Update in Washington Post Sunday, Nov. 29.