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Community Voices: Save senior, disabled transportation services in Bakersfield | Community Voices


Our community is facing a very quiet situation that will soon have an impact on thousands of seniors and people with disabilities. The Consolidated Transportation Service Agency provides low-cost door to door transportation to seniors and disabled community members. They offer a critical community resource to get to and from work, medical appointments, social day activities, recreation programs, shopping and to fulfill an independent lifestyle. Not to mention a very accessible program for our seniors and disabled who should no longer be driving.

CTSA, which is operated by the North of the River Parks and Recreation District over the last year has been proactively working with the Kern Council of Governments to find a new provider. CTSA has been operated by the NOR for more than 20 years. It began as a small program for the local parks district as a Meals on Wheels service. It then began to grow over time to operate to all of Bakersfield. Kern COG funds the program through federal transportation grants. But these funds do not cover the parks district overhead and they are not a transportation service. Kern COG has been aware of this situation for at least the last six months, but up until this last Thursday, no other agency had come forward to step in. They are also powerless to mandate a new service provider.

Prior to Thursday afternoon, the NOR board was scheduled to vote to send a letter to Kern COG that as of Dec. 31, they would no longer operate CTSA. Officials have indicated that a tentative agreement has been reached between Golden Empire Transit and NOR. I applaud NOR General Manager Monya Jameson and Golden Empire Transit CEO Karen King for reaching out and working together to support our seniors and disabled to continue door-to-door transportation.

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If this tentative agreement does not work out, seniors and the disabled population will have to seek other transportation options. Those options are Golden Empire Transit fixed route system, Get-A-Lift paratransit, or GET’s limited micro-transit option. All three options are problematic. If you do not live on a fixed bus route and are going from point A to B, this could take hours. Plus, medically fragile people such as dialysis patients cannot seek a fixed route bus.

Then there is the para-transit option of GET-a-Lift. Due to the COVID work shortage, they have limited drivers available. They are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide a para-transit service. But, if more riders are requesting rides due to CTSA closing, that will mean longer rides, wait times, and limited service availability.

GET’s On-Demand Lyft (Uber-style program) is still limited in certain parts of town. They also have a program through Kern Medical that is an option but not available to all. There is the private option of Uber or Lyft but that is very expensive for daily service and does not accommodate for wheelchair users.

Most California communities such as San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento have their door to door senior and disabled transportation options as a part of their overall para-transit service.

Prior to this last-minute tentative agreement, officials said that GET had declined to absorb CTSA stating that it is out of their transit area. But it now looks as they will be stepping in and helping the situation.

Again, I applaud,GET tentatively agreeing to absorb the CTSA ridership. They have the infrastructure in place and are positioned to maintain the quality of life our seniors and disabled deserve. Officials have said that the GET board will be informed of the situation at Tuesday night’s board meeting. We are hopeful they agree that they need to provide door-to-door transportation for our seniors and disabled population.

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October is National Disability Employment Awareness month and Blind Awareness month. This potential lack of viable transportation options only perpetuates the hurdles we must overcome to go to work and be productive members of our society.

GET also needs to consider that communities will be receiving more federal infrastructure funds soon which would possibly help everyone during this challenging time. Our community needs to become much more progressive in providing viable transportation options for everyone.

I urge you to reach out to the GET Board of Directors, your city council member, Kern County supervisor and your networks to raise their awareness of this situation. This coming week the Board of Directors for NOR, GET and Kern COG all have meetings scheduled and hope you can voice these concerns to these leaders. Agendas and meeting information can be found at: www.norfun.org, www.getbus.org and www.kerncog.org.

Chris Fendrick is president of the Greater Bakersfield Council of the Blind and teacher of the visually impaired at Ridgeview High School. He also is the current chair of the state of California Department of Rehabilitation Blind Advisory Committee.



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