Free and Discounted Transportation Options Help Seniors Get Out of the House
Dec 31, 2018 07:39PM
By Vanessa Orr
Many of us take for granted that when we want to go somewhere, we can just get in the car, call Uber or Lyft, or hop on a bus to take us to a new destination. But for a large number of seniors in northern communities, getting out of the house is much harder to do.
“It’s important to understand that there are many isolated seniors living in our communities, which is why we work to provide access to transportation so that they can get out and engage with others—to live life more fully,” explained Nancy Jones, program manager for North Hills Community Outreach’s (NHCO) senior programs. “No one wants to sit at home feeling lonely, or be unable to get to medical appointments or to get the groceries they need.”
Through its In Service of Seniors program, NHCO provides options for seniors who need transportation.
The Free Rides for Seniors Program, which is funded in part by the St. Margaret Foundation, offers seniors ages 60 and over free rides along Freeport Road and the Rt. 8 corridor. “One shuttle offers door-to-door service along or near Freeport Road from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays for people in the Fox Chapel, O’Hara, Sharpsburg, Blawnox and Aspinwall areas,” said Jones, adding that riders can call same-day for a ride.
A second shuttle provides transportation to UPMC medical appointments, serving different communities on different days throughout the week. Riders in Tarentum, Natrona Heights, Cheswick and Brackenridge are served on Mondays and Fridays; Millvale and Etna on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Oakmont and Verona on Wednesdays. Users do need to call ahead to reserve a space. The shuttle program can be reached at 412-449-0151, and more information is available at www.nhco.org.
NHCO also matches volunteers one-on-one with seniors to provide rides to medical appointments, grocery stores and other needed stops. “We’ve been offering this for close to 20 years,” said Jones, adding that seniors need to get enrolled in the program by calling 412-307-0069 before requesting transportation.
This year, NHCO is also partnering with Travelers Aid on a pilot program that is testing the viability of using services like Uber and Lyft when volunteers are not available to provide rides. Funding for the program has been provided through the United Way.
“We provide transportation for close to 500 seniors a year,” said Jones, adding that NHCO is part of the United Way’s countywide initiative Open Your Heart to a Senior, which includes providing volunteer services throughout the county. “Approximately 73 percent of the needs of seniors in Allegheny County are for transportation, especially in the northern area of the county where there is not as much access to Port Authority bus stops or more affordable options.”
The ACCESS program
The Port Authority’s ACCESS program offers door-to-door, advanced reservation, shared-ride transportation throughout Allegheny County and to destinations within 1.5 miles of the Allegheny County line. It runs seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight.
The ACCESS 65+ program is designed especially for seniors, and provides an 85 percent discount on fares for those over age 65. The program is partially funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery through the PA Department of Transportation. Seniors do need to apply for the service, which they can do downtown, by mail, or at a number of North Hills’ locations, including NHCO’s North Borough’s office in Bellevue.
“We suggest that all seniors who are eligible register for ACCESS so that they have several options available to them in addition to friends, family and NHCO,” said Jones.
The Port Authority also offers bus service all over Pittsburgh, and seniors 65 and over can ride buses, the light rail or the Mon Incline for free by presenting a Pennsylvania Senior Citizen ID Card or a Medicare card at the time of fare payment. To get a Senior ID, call 412-442-2000 for a list of senior citizen centers where you can apply for the free card.
While some seniors are tech-savvy and have no problem using the Uber or Lyft app, others may find it confusing or intimidating. For those who don’t use cellphones or who want help booking a spot, there’s GoGoGrandparent, which, for a small concierge fee, will arrange transportation with these providers.
Seniors or their family members can call 1-855-GOGO-USA (464-6872) to request a car. GoGoGrandparent will arrange transportation, and a car will usually arrive within 15 minutes to take the rider up to 100 miles in any direction.
Riders can also set up automatic rides for fixed appointments, and because the service tracks each ride, family members who want to make sure that their loved one was picked up and taken to an appointment can check minute-by-minute text messages provided by the company. The service, which is available in the Pittsburgh area, costs 27 cents a minute on top of the driver’s fare.
Other Transportation Options
The Ross Township Senior Grocery Shuttle is offered to Ross Township residents and is available on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of each week, depending on where a senior resides. The shuttle stops at McIntyre Square and North Hills Village on alternating weeks. To learn more, call the Ross Township Parks and Recreation Department at 412-931-7041.
Butler County residents who have qualified for Pennsylvania Medical Assistance can get rides to non-medical emergency appointments through the Medical Assistance Transportation Program, which provides free, non-emergency medical transportation to any health care services, such as dentists, hospitals, pharmacies, medical equipment suppliers and more, that is covered by medical insurance through the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. To learn more, call 1-866-638-0598.
Butler Area Rural Transit, or BART, also offers shared ride services to places including doctors’ offices, grocery stores and senior centers, among others. Prospective users need to apply to the Area Agency on Aging. Some riders may be eligible to receive discounts; to learn more, call 724-431-3663 or visit www.anrinfo.org.