|By Chris Maza
The East Longmeadow and Hampden councils on aging celebrated the arrival of the new bus for its innovative Two Town Trolley service on Aug. 8. Pioneer Valley Transit Authority Administrator Mary MacInnes, center, handed the keys over to East Longmeadow Council on Aging Director Carolyn Brennan, left, who spearheaded the creation of the regional service along with Hampden Council on Aging Director Rebecca Moriarty, right.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – The innovative senior transportation service for seniors in the towns of East Longmeadow and Hampden has a new set of wheels, thanks to the efforts of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) and the communities’ respective councils on aging (COA).
PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes handed over the keys to a new paratransit van that will be used as the new Two Town Trolley, which offers a cost-effective transportation option for senior residents on Aug. 8 at a ceremony attended by East Longmeadow COA Director Carolyn Brennan, Hampden COA Director Rebecca Moriarty, East Longmeadow Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici, East Longmeadow Selectman Angela Thorpe, Hampden Board of Selectmen Chair John Flynn and state Rep. Brian Ashe.
MacInnes explained that MassDOT has a Mobility Assistance Program through which regional transportation authorities can gain access to wheelchair-accessible vehicles and it was through that program that the new Two Town Trolley was obtained.
“[MassDOT] provided this vehicle at no cost to anybody,” MacInnes said. “Normally when MassDOT or PVTA use this funding you have to put down a 20 percent local match. It’s very generous of MassDOT to waive the match and provide the vehicle for no cost.”
The Two Town Trolley is one of the most innovative senior transit initiatives in the state, MacInnes said, explaining that there are very few programs that span multiple towns.
“One of the reasons why PVTA is excited about handing over this vehicle to Carolyn is that she has started a very innovative program whereby she is providing transportation for seniors both in East Longmeadow and also in Hampden,” MacInnes said. “I don’t think that’s done anywhere else in the state. I think that’s a very innovative program that she is actually crossing the border into Hampden. There’s very little intercommunity projects when it comes to transportation.”
MacInnes added she could see the Two Town Trolley as a template for other communities.
“I think it could be because it is a very cost-effective way of providing this kind of transportation. So the more cost-effective it could be, the more of it is available,” she said. “We’ll see how it works. We’ll be looking at the information and data and see how it’s doing.”
The program was the brainchild of Brennan that came to her when she and Moriarty were discussing transportation options.
“She and I talked and she had this great idea that maybe we could get a van and maybe we could start our own program to see if we could reduce the cost and provide more transportation, which we have definitely done,” Moriarty said.
Moriarty explained that in Hampden especially the program has proven to be very useful.
“It’s very important because Hampden is more isolated as a town and so we don’t fall on a big bus route with PVTA, so transportation is harder for people to access in Hampden,” she said.
In the past, Hampden had a volunteer driver service, but no programs for those in wheelchairs.
“To have a wheelchair van we can use is great and it creates that much more access for those people to come not only to the senior center, but to medical appointments,” Moriarty said.
In addition to accessibility issues, Moriarty and Brennan explained that fares, which may be increasing could be a significant financial burden. They said the cost of getting to and eating lunch at the senior center daily could cost between $30 and $50 per week. “I don’t spend that much on lunch,” Brennan noted.
“When you have to prioritize the top issues that are facing seniors, number one is the finances,” she said. “They have to start making decisions between drugs and utilities and rent, so this is relieving some of that burden.”
Brennan added that having residents from the communities involved in the day-to-day operation of the Two Town Trolley has also been a benefit to its riders.
“There’s also a local aspect to it. The drivers are all from Hampden; the dispatcher is from Hampden, but lives in East Longmeadow, so she knows the area and that’s huge,” she said.
The program utilizes no funding from either community to operate. Using a Service Incentive Grant from the Office of Elder Affairs as seed money to start the program, Brennan secured a second grant from the Executive Office of Administration and Finance specifically targeted for innovative community programs to continue the efforts.
Currently, Brennan said she and Moriarty are working on ways to keep the program self-sufficient.
“The next level is sustaining it,” she said. “There’s an opportunity for funding next year, but what we’re working on now is the ongoing sustainability because the town doesn’t pay for it and PVTA doesn’t pay for the ongoing operations.”
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