Government

Linn County LIFTS transportation gets off to a warmer start

Buses serving elderly and disabled now sheltered from snow

LIFTS driver Jim Beeson stows bags for Carli Willis (left) as he picks up clients in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 24, 20
LIFTS driver Jim Beeson stows bags for Carli Willis (left) as he picks up clients in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Debbie Logan is at right. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Five days a week, LIFTS transportation services picks up Debbie Logan from her apartment at the downtown Geneva Tower and takes her to the Milestones Adult Day Health Center in northwest Cedar Rapids.

Without the door-to-door service, it would be nearly impossible for Logan, 63, to get around town. Not only does she not drive, but a few years ago she slipped on the ice and needed five stitches on her forehead.

On Friday, even after school was canceled for the day because of heavy snow, LIFTS driver Jim Beeson walked Logan from the door of her apartment building and helped her on to the bus.

Beeson, who has driven for LIFTS for 12 years, calls Logan “Happy Debbie” because of her cheerful demeanor.

Logan said Beeson reminds her of her brothers who used to tease her mercilessly.

“You tease me, I’m going to tease you right back,” she said with a laugh as she settled into her seat on the bus.

Until a month ago on snowy days like Friday, LIFTS drivers would have to clear snow and scrape ice off vehicles before picking up clients. But a new building at 5815 Fourth St. SW in Cedar Rapids has a garage where buses are stored, safe from the elements.

LIFTS employees agree the new building will create a better experience for riders and improve services.

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LIFTS primarily provides door-to-door transportation for eligible elderly and disabled residents of Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha but also provides transportation for others outside the metro area.

It has been offering transportation services to Linn County residents since the 1970s. When it started, people were transported in vans that were not wheelchair accessible. Now, every vehicle is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In fiscal 2019, LIFTS transported people 90,000 times over 304,423 miles. The basic cost of a one-way ride is $3.

Beeson is glad he doesn’t have to scrape bus windows, a task that sometimes required drivers to use step ladders on snowy days. Over time, the garage will lead to reduced maintenance costs because vehicles will not be exposed to outdoor storage in extreme weather, he said.

LIFTS began moving into the building and out of 625 31st Ave. SW at the start of January.

LIFTS Director Tom Hardecopf said the service began working toward a new building six years ago, first getting approval from the Board of Supervisors and then finding the perfect location for the best price.

“Our service is not just driving buses. Our service is taking care of people,” Hardecopf said.

Since the director was hired with LIFTS 11 years ago, his goal was to move the department into a building with a garage for the buses.

The cost of the new building was $995,000, and the budget for renovations is $415,000.

The county still is in the process of selecting a contractor for the renovations. The supervisors approved a bid notice last week. The anticipated date of contractor selection is Feb. 26.

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Renovations needed include installing three additional garage doors for the vehicle maintenance area and creating office space.

The new facility also has a bay so the buses can be washed on site.

LIFTS services is partially funded by the Iowa Department of Transportation, with contracts through the East Central Iowa Council of Governments and Cedar Rapids Transit. The majority of LIFTS funding comes from the Board of Supervisors through the county general fund.

People who ride on LIFTS are being transported to doctors appointments, out to lunch or even shopping.

“We get paid to help people every day,” Hardecopf said. “Drivers take home more than they give. It’s a highly rewarding career. We’re very particular about who we hire. We don’t just hire bus drivers.”

The staff are all first aid and CPR certified, Hardecopf said.

There’s a lot of “longevity” in the job, Beeson said. “It’s like the job picks the person,” he said. “Everyone has the same goals: Service to our people. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like coming to work.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

How To Sign Up

LIFTS is a public transit service providing door-to-door rides for eligible elderly and disabled residents of Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha, and public transportation to all Linn County residents outside the metro areas. It gives priority to people who are unable to use city buses because of a disability or a disabling health condition. To qualify for LIFTS, disabled customers must complete the ADA Paratransit Application on its website.

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