The Humboldt Transit Authority is gearing up to renew a program that drives disabled people to their destinations if they can’t make it to the bus stop themselves.
For around two decades, vehicles have charged small fees to drive people where they need to go. The program started in Eureka and Arcata but has since expanded to McKinleyville. It now takes people as far south as Fields Landing and College of the Redwoods.
The Transit Authority’s board of directors will vote Friday on whether to re-up the program. First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who sits on the board, spoke positively about the company, CAE Transport, that runs the service.
“They provide such a level of service,” Bohn said. “We look forward to working with them in the future.”
Through Dial-A-Ride, anyone with medical confirmation of their inability to walk to a bus stop can call a ride to their home.
The service isn’t fast — a rider will typically need to share the transport with others, much like a bus — but it gets the job done in a way ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft don’t, said Greg Pratt, the Transit Authority’s general manager.
“Our drivers are trained and certified,” Pratt said. “The cars have wheelchair stations and lifts. They know how to handle people with mobility devices. They need to get eight hours of training a year, so they’re well-prepared for the job.”
The program has evolved over the years. When Dial-A-Ride first began making it out to homes in the late 1990s, riders were charged regular cab fare. Recent partnerships with government agencies, like the Transit Authority, have subsidized much of the costs.
CAE Transport typically does much of its outreach at the local senior centers, since elderly people use the service most, Pratt said.
People looking to use the service can schedule their rides over the phone. Mobile apps don’t necessarily work as well with the user base, said Eureka City Council member Natalie Arroyo, another Transit Authority board member.
“Most of the people like calling in and talking to a live person,” Arroyo said. “That’s sort of their modus operandi.”
Over the years, riders have developed a familiarity with the drivers. The result is a community business relationship that CAE Transport’s chief operating officer Catherine Sundquist hopes can continue with the board’s decision Friday.
“We have one driver who’s worked for us for 16 years,” Sundquist said. “Our drivers truly love what they do and take their jobs seriously. There are people who need extra help and we make sure they can get to and from their appointments … . We take pride in getting that service done as well as possible.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.