In the wake of the sudden closing of Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority last week, a number of individuals and groups have stepped in to take over some of the roles previously filled by the agency.
Dawn Williams had been a TRPTA bus driver for 18 years. She said that over the years she’d gotten close with many of the regular passengers on her routes, including the handful of dialysis patients who used the bus to attend treatment.
“They are the individuals who got left behind when TRPTA shut down,” Williams said.
The day after she was laid off by the agency, Williams visited the homes of several dialysis patients and offered to keep driving them to their appointments in her van. Four of them accepted her offer, as did several other former passengers as word of her volunteering spread.
For the last week, Williams has been making those trips, driving six hours a day or longer to get patients to and from the dialysis clinic or wherever else they need to go. Her van cannot take electronic wheelchairs and she’s had to start cutting back on the free rides for some passengers. In the short term, though, she plans to continue providing rides as she looks for a job and waits for a new system to be established.
“I feel like I never got fired. I’m still doing transportation for them. I just went from a bus to my car,” she said.
Williams isn’t the only one trying to help. Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership finalized a letter Thursday morning offering to contract with local companies to provide partial reimbursements for rides given to senior citizens.
The agency had partnered with TRPTA in recent years to provide free or heavily discounted rides through its Area VI Agency on Aging program.
The letter was sent out to a variety of smaller, local transportation companies instead of the multinational ride sharing companies that operated in the area, such as Uber and Lyft.
“We hope to work together with you on this endeavor in order to ensure that the transportation needs of older adults in Bonneville, Jefferson, Madison, and Teton counties are being met,” the letter read in part.
In the letter, EICAP proposed to reimburse companies $3 for each one-way ride given to a passenger older than 60. Each rider could receive up to 10 monthly boardings per company through this deal and could use them for medical appointments, grocery trips or almost any other reason.
“The big thing is that for seniors to remain independent, they need transportation to get to the places they need to go,” EICAP senior services director Morgan Nield said.
Nield said the agency had not tracked the individual rides taken by each TRPTA passenger in the past, but the new system would place greater emphasis on the individual riders. EICAP’s senior ride program helped to sponsor 13,860 rides between July and April.
State and local government entities also have started looking into options to replace the public transit system. Idaho Transportation Department opened a round of online applications for companies to receive emergency rural transportation funding for public transportation in the counties that had been covered by TRPTA and the rest of southeast Idaho. Local governments, nonprofits and businesses can apply to receive the one-time funding from the Federal Transit Administration until May 24.
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper will lead a transportation meeting May 21 with stakeholders from Bonneville County and the other cities formerly serviced by TRPTA to discuss the potential future of public transportation in the region. Idaho Falls had been the largest local government sponsor of TRPTA, setting aside $140,000 each year to help keep the system operating in the city.