By Bill DeBus
The News-Herald news-herald.com
For Lake County senior citizens, the road to using Laketran can begin in their living room or on the front porch.
In fact, a Laketran outreach specialist will make a personal visit to seniors’ homes to answer all of their questions about the transit system, ranging from where to catch the bus to how to pay for their trips.
It’s all part of Laketran’s new travel training program called Seniors on the Go. The program aims to create customized transportation plans for senior citizens who need to get around Lake County but might not have a car or family members to rely upon for rides.
The transit agency already does travel training outreach for the general public, but it started Seniors on the Go as a special program after getting an increasing number of calls from senior citizens and their caregivers.
One such call came from Ron Sluga of Eastlake, who wondered if Laketran could help his 75-year-old mother, Carol Sluga of Willowick, make trips to places like the grocery store and doctors’ offices.
“As you drive around town, you see senior citizens coming on the Laketran buses quite frequently,” said Ron, 56.
Carol lives alone, has dealt with eye problems and other health issues in recent years, and at the moment, has no car, her son said.
“Before trying to get her a used car, she agreed to try Laketran, and so far it’s worked out really well,” he said.
Before Carol made her first Dial-a-Ride trip on a Laketran bus, Ron arranged for the transit agency’s customer outreach specialist, Pat Pryatel, to meet with his mom at her home.
“He said he was going to be traveling and was worried that his mom wouldn’t be able to get around,” Pryatel said. “We come for an interview that’s individualized, so we find out exactly what somebody needs and go ahead and show them how to get it.”
The program highlights options for seniors to allow them to make personal decisions on whether they need transportation service for night or winter driving, to get to doctors’ appointments, help during a life-changing event, such as rehabilitation from a stroke, or daily trips for essential transportation.
During a Seniors on the Go visit, Pryatel will help a senior citizen determine if they would be best served by Laketran’s Dial-a-Ride service or local route buses. Dial-a-Ride provides door-to-door service on a reservation basis to anywhere in Lake County.
If seniors choose to take local route buses, Pryatel will help them understand Laketran bus schedules and know where to get on and off the bus.
Whatever Laketran service that a senior citizen uses, Pryatel also will explain how to pay for their bus trips. This could involve learning how to use Laketran smartcards — which come with a loaded fare value and require no cash payment. In addition, other seniors can receive free or discounted transportation if they qualify through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or other government agencies and programs.
Carol said she enjoys using Laketran Dial-A-Ride, which has reduced the need to arrange rides from son Ron and several other children and relatives who live in the area.
The transportation predicament experienced by the Slugas is “very typical, and becoming more the rule than the exception,” Laketran General Manager Ray Jurkowski said.
A driving force behind this trend is an increase in the number of older citizens in Lake County.
In fact, a Miami University Scripps Gerontology Center study projects that residents age 60 or older will comprise 34 percent of Lake County’s population in 2030, compared with 22.4 percent in 2010.
The AARP also reported that 88 percent of senior citizens want to stay in their own homes as long as they can, but more than 20 percent of seniors age 65 and older do not drive.
Laketran’s Seniors on the Go program can offer solutions to keep senior citizens mobile while keeping peace in their families, Jurkowski said.
“I think what this does is it gives seniors a sense of independence, and they don’t have to rely on family members as much for transportation,” he said. “So Laketran can relieve some of that tension and stress for families.”
For more information on the Seniors on the Go program, visit laketran.com or call 440-350-1067.