Trying to connect people with transit options presents its challenges, especially for many seniors and adult disabled. Despite obstacles, there are several organizations that have partnered with Douglas County to address that need and grant the freedom of mobility to all residents.
“Transportation has always been on of our highest needs in Douglas County,” said Jennifer Eby, Assistant Director of Community & Resource Services for Douglas County. “Especially for those who no longer have the ability to drive.” And as the footprint of the county grows, that need is climbing.
In an effort to serve the transportation needs of all, they are continuing to work with partners so mobility options are available to these populations. “We have partnerships with a lot of different agencies that provide transportation services,” Eby said. Largely fueled by grants and Mill Levy funds, each agency tries its best to stretch its piece of the pie.
“Most funds come from the Regional Transportation District (RTD), the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) to help subsidize trips for our seniors and adult disabled,” said Faye Estes, Mobility Program Manager for Douglas County. Awarded monies are then dispersed within the county.
Since 2012, the First Call center has been among the non-profits that receive those funds. They provide a service that allows clients to take a more coordinated approach to securing transportation.
“They are the best place to start,” Estes continued, “First Call has all the information on rides available throughout the county.” Asking a series of simple questions, they help callers navigate through eligibility requirements so they can be directed toward the most appropriate option.
“They’ll ask questions like, ‘Are you a senior?’ Do you have a disability?’— Because most trips that they provide tend to be focused on the seniors and disabled, due to a lot of the fund sources being specifically directed toward them,” Eby stated.
After meeting specific qualifications, the client is put in contact with the agency that will give them door to door service. “We work a lot with non-profit providers — with their own mission that they are operating under — that serve different populations,” Eby said. “For example, Neighbor Network only serves the senior population and the Castle Rock Senior Center transports seniors and a portion of the disabled population.”
However, the specifics of who and when they are able to provide the service are dependent on the sources of the funds and what particular population they can be applied to.
But once clients are in a given system, agencies make the best effort to prioritize the needs of their riders. “Typically medical needs and groceries take up the majority of services, but if there is an activity that the client wants to do and they need a ride, we try to promote group trips through places like the Senior Center,” Estes said.
Making slow connections
But even with local services like those offered by the Senior Center or the Town sponsored Taxi Voucher Program — which provides a reduced-fare taxi service through South Suburban Taxi that can handle wheelchair rides — the county understands it has limitations. Sometimes there are riders who must wait to get where they need to go.
“Our goal is to provide rides as efficiently as possible,” Eby stated. “But the grant funds are limited; when there’s not enough money, some clients may have to be put on a waiting list.” It’s a number they try to track closely to both quantify current need and plan for the future.
“Luckily, the funding is pretty steady because we have been able to demonstrate the need in Douglas County, based on the calls that come in for each provider,” said Eby. “Then when we go to ask for grants (the next year) we show the trips we currently provide and what kind of waitlist or need there is.”
Along with the confines of limited funding, the county must overcome other challenges. “We have a bit of a disconnected system right now. While these types of funds support transit services that we call door to door, we don’t really have well-connected transportation in general,” Eby said. It is a fact that has a direct affect many residents.
Eby added, “For example, the fact that we don’t have a transit system that will take our clients from Parker to Castle Rock is a challenge.” Because much of the area RTD service is fragmented, mainly serving the northern part of Douglas County. Even Castle Rock has opted out of the RTD District.
And the fragmentation continues deep into the rural areas. “Because we are the end of the line for RTD and their regional transportation district, it makes transportation more expensive,” Eby continued, “It also makes it fairly challenging because we don’t have as many bus routes and light rail stops so there are no connections between jurisdictions.”
For the short term future, the county will work to maintain existing partnerships and be open to hearing new ideas that will improve transportation connectivity for senior and adult disabled residents. “It’s going to take a lot of coordination, a lot of partnership and a lot of funding to make big improvements,” Eby continued, “There are small steps that we are starting to take and we are always looking for opportunities to expand transit services.”
With a group effort, she believes those small steps will start to repair the disconnected pieces of our transit system and make sure no one falls through the cracks. Eby said, “We want everyone to have the services to connect with their community and have a better quality of life.”
First Call Program
All of these services would not be available without important volunteers! If you would like to volunteer for one of the transportation agencies, contact them directly: