Silver Key transportation service gets good news: ACT grant, supplemental RTA money

       An estimated 3,600 more free rides will be possible for elder citizens this year, thanks to a supplemental $50,700 stipend that Silver Key Senior Services received in February from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA).

In front of Silver Key Senior Services, 2250 Bott Ave., Julie Wilson (right) a volunteer Silver Key driver, helps Mickey Zamora load groceries she received from the nonprofit's commodities food program into the back of a Silver Key van. Wilson then drove Zamora and her groceries to her home.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But even that good news has been relatively overshadowed by the recent announcement that the nonprofit, Westside-based agency has been awarded a $278,000 grant through the state FASTER program (which is funded in large part by increased car registration fees).
       The grant, matched by $64,000 from the local Area Agency on Aging, will allow Silver Key to work with three other specialized transportation providers in the county to develop an Accessible Coordination Transportation (ACT) system, according to Silver Key transportation services director Steve Carmichall. With the help of an advanced computer system and database, paid for through the grant, ACT will help the entities communicate better, allowing joint scheduling and cross- dispatching of vehicles, leading to at least a 10 percent efficiency gain, he estimated.
       “We're excited about what that brings to our community,” commented Howard Black, chair of Silver Key's board of directors. “This is huge. We are lacking capacity [currently] on a monthly basis.”
       The other three participants in the grant are Amblicab, Fountain Valley Senior Center and Community Intersections. Silver Key is the lead agency for the grant because it has the greatest capacity of the four, in terms of staff, database and facility space, Carmichall said.
       Work on the ACT implementation plan is expected to start in April. “It should all take place in six to nine months,” he said. “If we can do it sooner, that would be great.”
       In the meantime, the supplemental grant from the RTA provides a boost. Silver Key's $50,700 was part of $100,000 that the RTA board decided to allocate from its reserves after hearing from specialized-transportation providers that numerous seniors or disabled people would still be unable to get rides. RTA has traditionally aided such entities from its transit funds. The initial RTA allocation for 2011 gave each the same it had gotten the year before ($93,000 for Silver Key, $143,000 for Fountain Valley and $59,000 for Amblicab). Fountain Valley and Amblicab also received shares of the supplemental RTA allocation, except for $5,000 that was set aside by mutual agreement to use as leverage for future grants.
       Silver Key spends roughly $1 million a year on transportation, using a fleet of 26 vans (with many of its drivers as volunteers). Other than RTA funds or other grants, the balance of that $1 million is covered annually by private donations.
       Trips are provided six days a week, said Carmichall, who started as a volunteer Silver Key driver himself and became the transportation services director five months ago. The numbers have been rising: from 46,000 rides in 2009 to 55,000 last year, and - with the RTA supplemental allowing an estimated 3,600 additional rides from now through December - up to 60,000 this year, he said.
       To use Silver Key's transportation service, people call in advance to get on the schedule, then a van goes by their home to pick them up for medical appointments (highest priority), nutrition (second highest) and/or recreational outings, such as to shop or go somewhere for lunch. “For some of them this is the only social interaction they'll have,” Carmichall said.
       Rides are free, although donations are requested. Drivers do more than drive; they also help disabled people, as needed, out of their homes and into the vans, then reverse the procedure upon return.
       According to Silver Key transportation figures, the average cost of a trip is $18 a person. The average per-person donation is $1.59.

Westside Pioneer article