Utah Transit Authority has implemented a pilot volunteer driver program for seniors and disabled people in Weber and Davis counties.
The program allows eligible individuals to receive complimentary car rides to wherever they may need to go. In turn, the driver receives reimbursement through a voucher. Roads to Independence, Davis County Health Department Senior Services and Weber Human Services are all participating in this program, and compensating drivers.
Christy Achziger, coordinated mobility specialist for UTA, encourages participants to choose a driver they are comfortable with, such as a friend, neighbor or family member.
Kristy Cottrell, deputy director of Davis County Health Department who oversees the Senior Services program, said, "It is a great way that the senior can control and have some choice about who drives them to an appointment."
Achziger mentioned that most of the trips are for medical purposes, but the program could also be used for trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, and Tracy Socwell, program manager for Roads to Independence, said it could be trips for an activity, or even to work.
Cottrell believes that having a volunteer driver, rather than a paid staff member, helps provide a social connection. "This is a time that the older adult is not alone, they're out in the community and have the opportunity to talk and connect with another person," said Cottrell.
One reason why this program has so far only been implemented in Weber and Davis counties is that Proposition 1, a measure to increase transportation funding, passed in those areas back in 2015. Another is due to the fact that those areas are more rural, which doesn’t allow for easy public transportation.
“For a number of reasons, including neighborhood layout, road conditions or population density factors, transit can’t serve every location," Eddy Cumins, regional general manager of UTA’s Ogden Business Unit, said in a news release. "However, this program helps extend the transit system by providing access to locations not easily served by UTA. We enjoy great collaboration with the local communities in Davis and Weber counties, and we’re grateful for all of their support with this project.”
According to Socwell, if the individual who needs assistance travels less than 14 miles, then the driver receives a flat reimbursement of $5 from Roads to Independence — after that, it's 35 cents received for each additional mile.
In terms of the voucher, Achziger said, "you're not making money off this, per se," and that "it is a nice way for somebody who needs a ride somewhere to make it that burden of asking for a ride much easier for them."
Achziger believes they've had more than 300 one-way trips provided through this program, and Socwell said Roads to Independence has given out around $2,300 worth of vouchers to consumers.
The vouchers are funded through the 5310 grant, which is through the Federal Transportation Administration. Cottrell said the specifics of the grant are to expand transportation options for individuals with mobility difficulties.
"The idea behind a lot of the grant money is to use it for partnering on projects to get more people where they need to go," Achziger said, "especially in those really challenged demographic groups that we have, that are finding it difficult to get to where they need to go."
Cottrell explains the reason it's considered a pilot program: "Start out on a small scale, let's see how it works," she said. "When you start small it allows you to figure out the bugs and a way to do better and improve."
Socwell said that so far the program has been a success, and he hopes it will be opened up into other areas.