AP NEWS

Omaha-area residents lose rural transportation program

June 27, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Hundreds of elderly and disabled residents in the Omaha area are set to lose access to an affordable transportation program starting Monday, leaving officials to scramble for solutions.

The Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging’s rural transportation program provides subsidized transportation for residents who live outside urban areas. Officials learned in mid-May that some areas can no longer be served by the program, according to federal guidelines defining what constitutes urban. The program is funded in part by federal grants that are distributed through the state Department of Transportation.

Dennis Loose, who heads the aging office, said the elderly and people with disabilities are the primary users of the program— although it is open to the general public, Omaha World-Herald reported. Most riders use the service to travel to doctor’s appointments, personal appointments, senior centers and day programs.

“Any time people lose a service they’ve had, it’s a concern,” Loose said. “Especially for some of them, the options are severely limited or not at all. That’s a huge concern.”

He noted that 90% of current riders will no longer be eligible for the program that has been running for over 30 years. The $604,000 program provided more than 19,000 one-way rides in the last fiscal year.

Vicki Kramer, communications and public policy director for the transportation department, said the agency understands the importance of the programs and is exploring solutions. She didn’t disclose details about the proposed fixes.

“It’s not our goal to reduce this service, but we need to be in compliance with the federal standard,” Kramer said.

State Sen. Carol Blood, who represents western Bellevue and southeastern Papillion, learned about the changes from a constituent and has pressed transportation officials to move quickly.

“The issue for me is we’ve got to do this in a timely manner. We don’t have six months,” Blood said. “A lot of circumstances are going to prevent people from getting the transportation they need, and we need to kick it into gear fast.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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