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Massachusetts transportation provider SCM Elderbus launched READYBUS to help employees get to jobs, commingling workers with seniors to fill empty seats on vehicles.
SCM Elderbus is a non-profit transportation provider that has operated for over 40 years. As a subcontractor of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA), its primary mission is to provide transportation to seniors (age 60 and older) and people of all ages who have a disability within 21 towns in the WRTA service area, generally west of Worcester. On weekdays between 8 and 4, riders use Elderbus to get to medical appointments, the senior center, employment, shopping, or other purposes - even just a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts.
Tim O'Day, Executive Director of Elderbus, says that the majority of these towns have no fixed route service, and some have no cabs or livery, so the service that Elderbus provides is critical. For some riders, Elderbus is their only contact with the outside world. However, Elderbus does not meet everyone's transportation needs. Attending public meetings hosted by WRTA and the Chamber of Commerce, O'Day increasingly heard people asking about employment transportation, and the Elderbus call center was also receiving similar requests from non-disabled people under age 60. O'Day realized that Elderbus had some unused capacity and proposed opening service to the general public for in-town transportation to a work site in four towns: Southbridge, Spencer, Sturbridge, and Webster. WRTA was supportive of the pilot, and READYBUS launched in September 2012.
READYBUS riders ride alongside Elderbus riders. Because this service uses vehicles and drivers already on the road, the only cost to Elderbus is any fuel for additional trips. Elderbus originally launched READYBUS as a four-month pilot and monitored it closely to ensure that the program did not take away from the core service to seniors and people with disabilities. Although some regular customers had expressed concern about riding with READYBUS riders, no conflicts emerged once the program was operating.
Ridership on READYBUS started slowly but grew over time through word of mouth. Elderbus extended the pilot through the end of fiscal year and then for another year. Current ridership tops 260 trips per month – much higher than initial projections.
O’Day was an active member of the Central Massachusetts Regional Coordinating Council (RCC), a group of transportation providers, human service agencies, regional planners, and other stakeholders in the Greater Worcester area who met regularly to work together on improving mobility for the region’s seniors, people with disabilities, low-income commuters, and veterans. Through participating on the council, O’Day spread the word about READYBUS to partner organizations, which could then refer their consumers to this service. Connections through the RCC also enabled SCM Elderbus to apply for and receive a grant to expand READYBUS hours in two towns so that trips can start at 6 AM for people who work early shifts or need to get home after a night shift.
By building relationships with community partners, SCM Elderbus has increased its ridership and hours of operation, expanded its visibility, and improved mobility in its area.