NORTH LIBERTY — Laura Downer has lived at the North Liberty Living Center for nearly seven years.
And while Downer, 69, says she loves living at the senior housing facility, she admits not having a car can make things difficult.
“I don’t always have rides to where I need to go,” Downer said. “It’s inconvenient to ask someone else to get you. I think it’s an imposition.”
Downer said she’s relied on Johnson County’s SEATS Paratransit system to get to places such as Weber Elementary School in Iowa City where she previously volunteered, but she said the timing of that service could be inconvenient as well.
So when the city of North Liberty announced a new, on-demand transit program that would allow North Liberty residents such as Downer to get to where they needed to go, when they needed to go there, Downer eagerly signed up.
“I was so grateful, so thankful,” she said. “This is a wonderful thing.”
This month, North Liberty began registering interested residents for its new Transportation Assistance Program. Qualified residents can call a Yellow Cab and take trips to the doctor, bank or grocery store, or to government offices such as the post office.
Each ride costs $1 and the city will pick up the remainder of the tab for what Yellow Cab would charge for the trip.
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Residents can go to Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and Tiffin for medical appointments or Iowa City to visit the Health and Human Services Building. But a trip to the Coralville Public Library — rather than North Liberty’s — wouldn’t qualify. School and work trips are not covered.
Angela McConville, special projects coordinator for the city, said she’ll be monitoring detailed data from Yellow Cab to look for any misuse of the program.
“The intent is to get these most essential trips taken care of,” McConville said. “We’ll tackle work and school travel later. We’re trying to tackle the most obvious needs first.”
Anyone who wants to use the program has to sign up. The city hosted registration drives earlier this month and McConville plans to host more drives in December, she said. People can apply online, but will have to meet with McConville before they can be issued an identification card to use the program. So far, 55 people have signed up to use the program, McConville said.
“We recognize the fact that a lot of people don’t drive, choose not to drive or can’t drive,” McConville said. “We want to make sure their quality of life is such that they can meet their basic needs. Just getting to appointments is important.”
The funding for the program is coming out of the city’s general fund, using money previously set aside for a fixed bus service that was rolled out a couple of years ago but ultimately was unsuccessful.
The bus ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and in North Liberty only.
“It was well planned, it was well thought out,” North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue recalled. “We just did not get the ridership.”
The City Council’s transportation committee went back to the drawing board and landed on the cab service proposal. Yellow Cab of Iowa City was selected as the provider for the program after a bidding process.
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Donahue said that for him, supporting the program was a “moral decision” stemming from his desire to help those in need in the community.
The program is limited to those who meet certain criteria, such as being a senior citizen, not having access to a car, having a permanent or temporary disability that prevents the person from driving or meeting income guidelines. McConville said anyone on a financial-assistance program will qualify.
The city plans to evaluate the program in about 90 days, make any necessary tweaks and evaluate in 90 days. McConville said they’ll know more about the cost of the program once they see how many people use it.
McConville said she is hopeful the program is successful in getting North Liberty residents to their essential appointments.
“I do a lot of programming for seniors,” she said. “I want to take care of them. We have a lot of comments like, ‘I had to cancel that appointment because I couldn’t find a ride.’ That’s unacceptable.”
To learn more about the program or sign up, go to https://northlibertyiowa.org/residents/transit/transportation-assistance-program or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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