The Laketran trustees have granted the agency authorization to apply for federal grant funding for the purchase of 18 paratransit vehicles to replace obsolete buses.
The new fleet would increase the Dial-a-Ride fleet by five vehicles by 2018. The transit agency’s current Dial-a-Ride fleet stands at 80.
During peak service, 73 are in operation. If funds are awarded, the fleet will increase to 85 buses, still conservatively below the federally suggested spare ratio.
Administered through Cleveland-based Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, the federally funded Enhanced Mobility for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities grant provides non-profit and public agencies capital assistance to improve access and mobility for seniors and people with disabilities, according to a Laketran news release.
The grant provides 80 percent federal funding for the buses and Laketran provides the 20 percent match from local sales tax revenue.
The total federal appropriation for Cleveland Urbanized Area for public transit agencies is $1.8 million.
Dial-a-Ride ridership has increased 14 percent over the last three years, according to the agency. January ridership saw a 12 percent increase over January 2016.
“At first we hired additional part-time drivers to accommodate the demand, but now we’re at a point where we need more vehicles,” said Deputy General Manager Ben Capelle, who heads Laketran’s operations division. “Previously, the demographics of our Dial-a-Ride service was generally split in half between seniors and people with disabilities, but the senior portion has grown nearly 17 percent over the last three years.”
From 2000 to 2010, Lake County’s population of age 65 and older grew by more than 15 percent, the result of residents aging in-place. According to a study commissioned by Lake County, by 2030 one of three county residents will be over the age of 60, with most of the growth after 2020 in the ages of 75 years and older.
Capelle said more seniors means more medical trips.
“That’s exactly what we’re seeing with our door-to-door Dial-a-Ride service,” he said. “Well over 50 percent of our Dial-a-Ride trips are senior trips. The additional buses will allow Laketran to maintain reliable Dial-a-Ride service as we move forward with serving Lake County’s growing senior population.”
The growth has resulted in higher demand for paratransit service, the fastest growing component of Laketran’s operating budget, the release stated.
“This is a population very dependent on our services,” said General Manager Ray Jurkowski. “Approximately half of the Dial-a-Ride riders live in households where there is no vehicle available and closer to 60 percent have a disability that prevents them from driving.”
Buses purchased with the awarded funds will be propane-fueled and equipped with a wheelchair lift, fold-up seats to accommodate up to four wheelchairs, slip-resistant flooring, an electronic transit door and a central heating and cooling unit.
Jurkowski went on to detail the need for government assistance, noting that the increase in the growing senior population will only continue to rise.
“We’ve been talking to our state and federal legislators about being well aware of this because we can only keep up with this kind of demand for so long given the volatility of the funding,” he said. “They’ve got to put in place some dedicated funding to be able to absorb these kinds of increases.