A bus rolled into the alley behind the Manatee County Administration Center and came to a stop. Bi-fold doors swooshed open to a row of rubber-ducks in military attire upon the dash and James Hamilton at the wheel.
Hamilton, an MCAT employee, earned his driving experience through 20 years of service in the Army. Seems fitting, as his passengers are all veterans heading to appointments at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg or the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa. "It's something I enjoy doing," said Hamilton. "I served my country in the Army, why not continue to serve my community?"
It's $5 each way for a ride, but many veterans are either reimbursed for travel through the VA, or the fare can be obtained through the One Stop Center or Manatee County Veterans Services.
Lee Washington, the county veterans services officer, says 2,742 rides were taken by veterans in the last fiscal year via the Manatee County Area Transportation's veterans bus.
The bus picks up veterans at Walmart stores throughout the county, the Salvation Army on 14th Street, and for those who have medical or physical disabilities, arrangements can be made to pick up veterans at their homes.
Rick Matherly, an Army veteran who served as a paratrooper and in the infantry, stood outside the bus recently, chatting with another passenger. "It's a good thing Manatee County does for it's veterans," he said.
For questions regarding pickup times and places, call Manatee County Area Transportation at 748-2317.
For other questions, call Manatee County Veteran Services at 749-3030.