by Blair Israel, Central Council of Governments (CCOG)
Volunteer Transportation Services (VTS) is a new free transportation service for older adults, veterans and persons with disabilities throughout Mecklenburg County and the surrounding counties in North Carolina.
Volunteer Transportation Services is operated by Centralina Connection, a non-profit organization partnering with other public transportation agencies, non-profits and volunteer drivers in the region. The service is being initially funded through Federal Transit Administration grant funding to Centralina Council of Governments. Foundation grants and private donations will help meet the $185,000 annual program budget in the future.
“This is a collaborative effort to respond to a need in this region,” said Bjorn Hansen, Principal Planner – Transportation, with Centralina Council of Governments. “Volunteer Transportation Services is an efficient way to provide more human service transit options that can improve quality of life for residents of this region.”
The launch of Volunteer Transportation Services caps more than two years of collaboration and hard work by area transit agencies, Departments of Social Services, Veterans Offices, local governments throughout the region, and Centralina Council of Governments. Centralina Council of Governments applied for and received a grant in 2013 to implement a mobility management agency and initiate volunteer transportations services for its nine-county region. That region includes: Anson, Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly and Union counties.
“These services are being offered to fill a gap and meet a growing need for rides that don’t qualify for other transportation services,” said James Prosser, Centralina Connection Board President and Director of Mecklenburg County Veterans Affairs. “This will complement existing transportation services out there. We are providing provide safe, flexible transportation options where other services may not fit the need.”
Volunteer Transportation Services officials say the service will help through the following ways:
•Non-emergency access to medical care, grocery stores, cultural facilities, senior centers, churches or other needs and destinations for those without access to a vehicle, or are simply uncomfortable or unable to drive.
•Non-emergency medical trips will take priority, but access to social, shopping and other destinations critical to maintaining independence will be provided.
•Services will be offered to places and at times where other systems are unavailable.
Transportation Services is developing capacity to serve the community and is now focusing on recruiting volunteers. It is critical to recruit and train volunteers so VTS can begin serving the community.
Would you like to volunteer to be a driver?
•Volunteer Transportation Services allows neighbors to help neighbors – people who need a ride are paired with a local volunteer willing to provide a ride.
•The program relies on trustworthy and competent volunteer drivers who are at least 21 years of age with a valid North Carolina driver’s license, and own a vehicle in clean and safe operating condition.
•Each trained volunteer undergoes a thorough background and driver record checks conducted and paid by VTS, and carries automobile liability insurance that meets the North Carolina minimum insurance requirements.
•Interested? Contact Katie Kutcher 704-348-2705 to learn how to become a driver.
Do you need a ride?
•If you are 50 years of age or older, a veteran or have a disability- then you may be eligible. VTS is still building capacity to serve the community at this time. However if you would like to place your name on an interest list or are seeking to connect to existing transportation services in the Centralina Region contact 1-800-508-5777.
How will VTS work?
•A potential rider would contact VTS to see if they are eligible.
•If so, VTS staff will utilize volunteer transportation scheduling software to manage trips requests, volunteers and reports. Staff will answer questions, take trip requests, and confirm volunteers are available to provide the requested trip.
•Volunteer Transportation Services is a free service. As a rider, you will not be charged for your trips, but donations are encouraged.
The non-profit, Centralina Connection, plans to eventually expand its Volunteer Transportation Services to other counties in the Centralina region.
Find out more about Volunteer Transportation Services and Centralina Connection by visiting www.centralinamobility.org, or contact Bjorn Hansen or Katie Kutcher of Centralina Council of Governments at 704-372-2416.