Silver Key trips for seniors could drop by 25 percent

       A down economy, combined with a Solomon-style political decision by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) board, will mean cutbacks on Silver Key's driving errands for senior citizens this year.
       The board's vote last week left the Westside-based non-profit agency with a reduced transportation budget for the second straight year. Silver Key CEO David Shaffer said afterward that the agency will have to implement a new policy requiring seniors to place requests for trips farther in advance. The effect, he estimated, will be the number of agency trips dropping up to 25 percent this year from the 2008 total of 58,000.
       In addition, Silver Key has released “some members of our team as part of an organizational layoff,” Shaffer said in a release late Jan. 21. No other details were available at press deadline.
       In its vote, the RTA board overrode recommendations from two advisory boards. Both the Coordinating Committee on Special Transit and the Community Advisory Committee had suggested giving Silver Key slightly less than half of the $310,000 available from RTA budget reserves, based on the percentage of assisted trips it provides, in comparison with three other specialized-transportation providers in the county.
       But the RTA had a deeper concern, according to RTA board member Sallie Clark. Under the advisory recommendation, the Fountain Valley Senior Center (which primarily serves the south part of the county) would have received only about a fourth of the RTA money. While logical, based on the assisted-trips formula, the actual outcome would have been a financial blow so severe that the agency could have provided “no service at all,” Clark said. Even the share Fountain Valley received (about $144,000), is well below the $200,000 it has gotten from the RTA (and before that, El Paso County) in previous years.
       The rest of the RTA's $310,000 to specialized-transportation providers was about $93,000 to Silver Key, $57,000 to Amblicab and $15,000 to Community Intersections.
       Without transportation assistance for needs such as doctor visits or the grocery store, both Clark and Shaffer explained, many seniors would be unable to continue living independently. If the Fountain Valley center ended its service, homebound elderly in that area of the county “would soon be in nursing homes,” Clark said.
       Ideally, she said the RTA should budget an appropriate amount each year for those providers, but the money comes from the 10 percent share of RTA sales-tax revenues which funds Mountain Metropolitan Transit. And, with RTA revenues down this year, Mountain Metro already had to eliminate fixed routes, she pointed out.
       Silver Key had received $310,000 from the RTA in 2006 and $130,000 last year.
       Shaffer said he understood the board's thinking, but “I wish more attention could be given to those who need this so desperately.” Largely because of the economy hurting donations, the agency already had a shortfall this year of $350,000, which the $93,000 only partly covers.
       For many years, Silver Key riders were asked to place trip requests three days in advance. That will now become five to six days, which Shaffer thinks many seniors will need time to adjust to and which will reduce the number of trips in general. “It's going to be a tricky situation,” he said. “Riders will have to think farther out about making that trip.”
       Overall, “there will be some extended wait times, but nobody will be refused [as long as they call in time],” Shaffer said.

Westside Pioneer article