Julie Ames has had to cancel four doctor’s appointments in the last couple weeks because she has no transportation.
The 74-year-old Manatee County resident has relied on the county’s Handy Bus to get to her medical appointments for the past three years. But now she says she has been told she can no longer ride the paratransit service.
“I called about 10 days or two weeks ago and they told me that they only pick up passengers that are missing a limb or going to dialysis, so I can’t be picked up anymore,” Ames said last week. “And it costs a lot of money to have neighbors, friends or family take me to a medical appointment.”
Ames lives in Holy Cross Manor apartments in Palmetto, which is U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development housing for residents over 62. Ames last rode the bus in September.
“It was here four or five days a week sometimes,” Ames said. “Now they are just not here anymore. This is HUD housing. People in housing don’t have a lot of money to spend.”
According to the county’s transit division, there is no record of any trip denial for Ames in December.
But the county does in fact prioritize medical trips for acute medical conditions such as kidney dialysis treatment in the county’s Transportation Disadvantaged Program, according to Bill Steele, the county’s transit division manager.
“Should there be less demand for acute medical trips, that would provide an opportunity to provide more TD medical trips,” he said. “However, to this point, the demand for acute medical care is steady, and not subsiding.”
Prior to deadline, the county was not able to provide specific data as to how many, if any, TD trips had to be denied.
With baby boomers aging, there is a steady increase in demand for the Americans with Disabilities Act program, which has no capacity constraints as well as no trip prioritization, Steele said.
“This growing demand stresses the operations work force, as well as creating financial impacts,” he said. “To make these two programs work effectively and in an ongoing ADA-compliant manner, Manatee County’s TD program is scaled so that ridership demand is matched with operating resources — and that is why the TD trip priorities are necessary.”
In the future, the county plans to shift the eligibility for the TD program to annual household income, which will shift some demand from new TD applicants to the fixed bus routes, Steele contended.
“Then, over time, the Handy Bus program becomes much more focused on growing ADA passenger demand,” he said.
Over the last year or so, the county’s paratransit services has been a topic of conversation among county officials. The county had proposed an increase in the paratransit rates from $2 to $3 due to an increase in ridership, but the commissioners elected this summer to keep the rates at $2 each way for another year.
“This is the most vulnerable of all our ridership,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said in July when commissioners voted to use approximately $90,000 out of a reserve fund instead of increasing the fares.
It’s difficult being a senior without a vehicle, Ames said.
“I really miss it,” she said of the Handy Bus. “I cannot afford to pay expensive amounts of money for transportation.”
While there is a bus stop for Manatee County Area Transit at Holy Cross Manor, the bus has fixed routes and doesn’t drop off at the front of the medical offices like the Handy Bus does.
“I’ll have to walk a long distance to get from the bus stop to the doctor,” she said.