Willowick senior Reta King, 95, uses Dial-a-Ride to get to Willowick Senior Center accompanied by Laketran driver Martin Mihalik.

Willowick senior Reta King, 95, uses Dial-a-Ride to get to Willowick Senior Center accompanied by Laketran driver Martin Mihalik.

Laketran’s Board of Trustees gave the agency the green light to apply for federal grant funding for 18 paratransit vehicles to replace obsolete vehicles and increase the Dial-a-Ride fleet by five vehicles by 2018.

The Painesville, Ohio-based Laketran's current Dial-a-Ride fleet is 80 buses and during peak service 73 are in operation. If grant funds are awarded the fleet will increase to 85 buses, which is still conservatively below the federally suggested spare ratio, according to the agency.

Laketran’s Dial-a-Ride ridership trend warrants the additional buses. Ridership has increased 14 percent over the last three years and has no sign of slowing down.  The January 2017 ridership is up 12% 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,” explained Ben Capelle, deputy general manager of Laketran 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, the Lake County population 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 Lake County residents will be over the age of 60, with most of the growth after 2020 in the cohort 75 years and older.

“More seniors naturally translates to more medical trips and that’s exactly what we’re seeing with our door-to-door Dial-a-Ride service,” continued Capelle. “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 in the number of seniors undoubtedly resulted in higher demand for paratransit service, which is the fastest growing component of Laketran’s operating budget.

“We’re talking about a population very dependent on our services,” explains Ray Jurkowski, general manager of Laketran. “Approximately half of the Dial-a-Ride riders live in households where there is no vehicle available and closer to sixty percent have a disability that prevents them from driving.”

Most people give up driving around age 85 and men tend to outlive their driving ability by about six years and women, by about 10 years.

“We are just the beginning of a span of 25-30 years where the baby-boomer generation will demand more transportation service and we’re continuing to look at ways to meet the demand,” said Jurkowski.

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 in response to customer concerns about vehicles being too hot or too cold. Additional safety amenities include seatbelts, clearance lights, Mor-Ryde suspension, and safety cameras.

Administered through NOACA, 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. 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.

Photo byline: Willowick senior Reta King, 95, uses Dial-a-Ride to get to Willowick Senior Center accompanied by Laketran driver Martin Mihalik.

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