Free-ride program lacks volunteers 

A month into the launch of a free-ride service designed to help low-income senior citizens get to the grocery store or a haircut appointment, a shortage of volunteer drivers has left many seniors waiting in limbo.

More than 30 seniors, age 65 and older, have signed up for free rides, but only a handful of drivers have registered, while a few drivers are still waiting for the green light to begin giving free rides.

"I signed up about four weeks ago and they haven’t found a driver yet," said Estelle McNeill, a 92-year-old Redwood City resident who said she voluntarily hung up her keys three years ago because driving made her nervous.

The service, which reimburses drivers for gas at a rate of 32 cents a mile, is meant to provide seniors with a way to get to the pharmacy or just visit afriend, said Susan Houston, director of senior services for the nonprofit Family Service Agency of San Mateo County, which manages the program.

"We’re really focused on the quality of life," Houston said.

Family Services, with $250,000 in state funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, launched the Transportation Reimbursement Independence Program on May 1 and hopes to serve as many as 85 seniors during a two-year trial. Focused on serving low-income seniors in and around Redwood City, TRIP could expand to other cities, if successful, Houston said.

Daniel Cadena, a Redwood City resident with his own taxi business on the Peninsula, is one of five drivers who signed up, but has yet to receive a phone call to pick up a senior.

"I’m ready to start," Cadena said. He decided to register after hearing about a senior citizen who had been treated poorly by another taxi company in the area, said Cadena, who doesn’t plan to take any reimbursement for gas expenses.

"I offered to drive for them Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the week," Cadena said of TRIP. While those hours are generally his down time, it works out well for many seniors who prefer afternoon trips, Houston said.

Only one or two trips have actually occurred thus far as Family Services tries to filter through the paperwork of riders who must meet a number of requirements, and drivers who must undergo a background check and verify they have vehicle insurance, said Katherine Chouteau, Family Services Agency spokeswoman.

Stuck in ‘park’

Family Services Agency of San Mateo County began the Transportation Reimbursement Independence Program (TRIP) for senior citizens and hopes to serve as many as 85 seniors.

» Began operations: May 1

» Funding: $250,000 in state funds from Metropolitan Transportation Commission

» Duration of program: Two-year trial

» Program serves: 85 senior citizens who are San Mateo County residents and over 65 years of age

» Free ride restrictions: Must begin and end in San Mateo County; limited to 50 miles one way and 170 miles total per month.

» Driver reimbursement: 32 cents per mile

» For more information on a free ride or to sign up as a driver: Contact Alan Yosef with the Family Services Agency at (650) 780-7546.

- Source: Family Services Agency

ecarpenter@examiner.com


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