Sussex Seniors Concerned Over Possible Change to Paratransit - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Sussex Seniors Concerned Over Possible Change to Paratransit

DELAWARE - In Sussex County, a potential DART plan is creating some concern from seniors and disabled people. The plan would mean that 80 percent of paratransit trips would be cut in the county. The Delaware Transit Corporation, known more commonly as DART, said they are considering the change because the paratransit system is not sustainable. 

DART said they spend about half of their transportation budget on the service, although just 8 percent of riders are using it. They said this unbalance has made a change necessary.

The state is mandated by ADA regulations to provide these shuttles to disabled people, who live within a certain range of the regular bus routes. But Delaware has always gone far beyond that, providing the shuttles not only to disabled people, but also to the elderly. They have also offered the service to all qualified users, regardless of where the person lived in the state. 

Under the new system, they would only provide service to people with disabilities, and only if they live within 3/4 of a mile from the regular bus routes. At the CHEER Center, seniors told WBOC they would be concerned by this type of change. Fran Smith is the site manager at the Cheer Center on 113 in Georgetown. She described one of the elderly people she works with, who she said drastically needs the service. 

"She wouldn't have anything else," she said. "It's important to her in order to socialize, to get to doctor's appointments, to do her shopping."

DART told WBOC that the program is simply not sustainable in it's current form. They said the cost for each one-way trip, using the paratransit is $50, a cost that is far too high to be maintained over the years. The cost to provide paratransit has jumped by 233 percent since 2000. 

In January, DART approved a new strategy to cut the number of stops for these shuttles drastically, by only offering services to people within that 3/4 of mile radius. This would cut the number of trips by 19 percent in New Castle County, 47 percent in Kent County, and 79 percent in Sussex County. 

Initially this plan was going to be taken into effect by September, but as the agency considers the pros and cons, this plan could be delayed. DART officials said the plan could be abandoned all together as well. Kenneth Bock from CHEER said he understood the need for a new system, but said the offered alternative would be detrimental to Sussex County seniors. 

"Getting to the corner market for a quart of milk is a five mile proposition for them," he said. "So not having a car, they are stranded in their own homes." 

But others like John Murphy from Seaford said that a change is needed as the population continues to grow.

"Somebody is going to have to do some deep studying and get all the facts," he said. "And line it up and then get together a viable plan that will work. Because the way it's going now is not going to work. It's doomed to fail." 
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