Local Group Meets To Assess Growing Transportation Needs In Owen County
A group of people representing several components of the local community gathered at the Owen County Family YMCA in early December to discuss the transportation needs of the county. The major focus was transportation for senior citizens and people with disabilities. However, the group quickly discovered that transportation is a concern for a broad spectrum of the population and a very complicated issue.
People in attendance gave input on many types of transportation needs, including: wheelchair accessible transit, medical transit, trips outside the county, transportation for personal needs such as shopping, errands or socialization, transportation to employment, and trips at night or on the weekend. Many homebound elderly people rely on Rural Transit; without their assistance to get to appointments or the grocery store those seniors would become socially isolated. Seniors who limit their night driving due to decreased vision were also discussed. This prevents them from participating in community events. It was pointed out that Owen County lacks taxi services that might be available in larger cities.
Area 10 on Aging has provided transportation to Owen County for over 20 years with the brown buses of the Rural Transit service. Kerry Conway, Executive Director of Area 10, said that they provide over 200,000 rides a year to Owen, Monroe, Putnam and Lawrence counties. Conway said that demand for services is increasing as resources and support declines. Like many notfor profit organizations, Area 10 struggles to sustain services in spite of the budget cuts. Adding to the problem is the fact that operational costs for the services have also increased. Funding from the state was reduced by the legislature last year. The demand for transportation to routine medical appointments has increased, but the number of providers willing to accept Medicaid reimbursement has declined. Patients frequently call the local EMS requesting transportation to their doctor’s office. That is not a service the EMS can provide. Some counties and cities support the RT service by making a local match part of their budget. While the Owen County Council makes a small contribution each year, there is no other support from the community.
Information about services currently available were discussed. The brown buses visit all areas of Owen County. They offer fixed routes that run on a schedule like any bus service and ‘demand and respond’ trips for individuals needing medical transportation. They do offer transportation that is wheel- chair accessible. They do not go to Vigo or Marion counties, however, they do transport folks to Monroe and Putnam counties from Owen County. During the discussion many people were made aware that there are other organizations that have small buses or vans to transport their clients or residents.
Mary Boutain, from Area 10, helped the group focus on what could be done to sustain and diversify services. Everyone agrees they are not looking for just one solution but many solutions. Raising awareness of transportation needs and available resources was identified as a vital part of the solution. More recognition from county officials of the importance of supporting public transit in Owen County is needed, not only for seniors and people with disables, but those who depend on RT to get to work or college. Conducting a needs assessment in the county was mentioned as a next step. The group is determined to find an answer to the question: what CAN we do to sustain and increase resources? There is a need to increase local funding, build working relationships, collaborations and partnerships within the community.
The task force will meet again on January 3, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. at the Owen County Family YMCA in Spencer. Anyone with an interest in the issue of transportation is invited to attend. For more information, please call Mary Boutain at 812-876-3383.
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