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New Utah County shuttle service to help seniors

OREM — Getting senior citizens from point A to point B easily and independently is the intent of Seniors Out & About, a new door-to-door shuttle service in Utah County.

For now, point A and point B must be in the Provo-Orem area, but CEO Steve Fuller envisions the day when the new shuttle service will serve all of Utah County, then the Wasatch Front and finally St. George and other areas within the state.

"We can expand as fast as we can get riders," he said.

An open house is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Orem Senior Friendship Center, 93 N. 400 East.

Initial funding came from folks who checked a box to contribute a dollar or two when they renewed their Utah drivers' licenses, said Nels Holmgren with the state Division of Aging and Adult Services.

Seed money totaled $150,000 and will be handed out over three years with the understanding it is to become self-sufficient by then.

"No state general fund money is going into this," he said.

However, private donations may be needed to continue to cut the costs for seniors, said Scott McBeth, director of the Aging and Family Services Department with the Mountainland Association of Governments.

Seniors Out & About grew out of another shuttle service, Wasatch Transportation, that's been taking blind and deaf kids to school for 25 years, he said. When the division put out a request for proposals in April 2008, the transportation folks jumped at the chance to grow the business. But it wasn't until August that it was finally funded. Since then, the company has been doing market research to prove the need and get ready to open.

"We did a soft launch two weeks ago," Fuller said.

While he used brochures and flyers to get the word out, the most effective way turned out to be word-of-mouth. Most ride requests came from senior care centers. The service has two shuttles now, but that will expand with demand, he said. Hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Seniors Out & About came up with three simple ways to pay, eliminating cash or checks. Riders can pay by credit card every time they board the shuttle; buy a ready pass, which is a simple punch-card with a set number of rides; or use a Z-pass, which looks like a credit card. It has a chip in it that reads every time the card is used, then the patron receives a monthly bill ranging from $32 to $302 depending on which of two plans they choose based on the number of rides they get.

The service requests seniors schedule rides a day in advance, but same-day requests are honored, too, with an additional $3 charge. A single one-way ride costs $8.

The service helps seniors remain independent, McBeth said, particularly among those who find it difficult to take the bus, while enduring the weather and bus transfers. He went with some seniors on a run to a grocery store, which he said opened his eyes to their need for independence.

One elderly woman told him, "I love it. It helps my independence. I hate so much to call my son across town (for a ride). I can do it on my own."

e-mail: rodger@desnews.com