En Route Transportation started a new contract with Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership on Monday to provide rides for senior citizens in the Idaho Falls area.
Eligible passengers over the age of 60 can take up to 10 one-way trips per month through the program without having to pay. The rides can be taken to anywhere in Idaho Falls, Ammon, Ucon or Iona as long as they qualify as non-emergency medical trips.
EICAP’s ride contract previously was held by Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority before it abruptly shut down at the end of April. At the time it shut down, the public transit company had provided more than 13,000 rides through the senior program over the previous 10 months.
“It was a disheartening situation for the city and the members of the community that were relying on TRPTA,” En Route Manager Teresa Browning said.
Browning is En Route’s founder and one of its eight van drivers. She operates the business out of her home in Idaho Falls. The company is one of several small companies in Idaho Falls that is licensed to provide non-emergency medical transportation through the state Medicaid program and also has a transportation contract with Bonneville Joint School District 93.
EICAP Senior Services Director Morgan Nield said the agency started reaching out to transportation companies in the city after receiving a list from the Idaho Falls city government. En Route Transportation was the only company with open routes that was willing to accept the agency’s reimbursement rate of $3 per ride.
“I think a lot of the other providers were really booked up with the emergency and Medicaid routes because of TRPTA closing their doors,” Nield said.
The low reimbursement rate also could have scared away some companies from the contract. Browning said that Medicaid reimbursement for rides has not increased in more than a decade, so companies that cannot minimize their overhead operating costs have trouble staying in business.
“This is a tough industry. Everything else, fluctuates but the rates stay the same,” Browning said.
Some gaps remain from the routes that had been offered by TRPTA. En Route is only contracted to drive in the immediate coverage area for Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, meaning there are no non-emergency routes to Rigby or Driggs. The company also does not have any wheelchair-accessible vehicles in its fleet, so Nield said the agency will continue looking for that resource from other companies.
Eligible riders who want to make use of the non-emergency transportation will have to first contact EICAP to sign up for the program, then schedule all rides directly with En Route. Nield said the agency would check the demand for rides as time goes on to see whether the monthly limit needs to be raised.