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Pennsylvania

Share-a-Ride Program Offers Transportation Assistance

Services help people 65-plus to stay independent

Hours cut back

The Huntingdon-Bedford-Fulton Area Agency on Aging, which runs the service Bishop uses, has a fleet of vans and buses that covers an area of more than 2,000 square miles.

The agency has left vacant positions unfilled, reduced hours, raised fares and cut back on in-home care services to keep the ride service running, said Alan Smith, the agency's executive director. But despite a 25 percent fare increase in November, the agency has not raised the $3.50 round-trip fee for shared-ride patrons, Smith said.

Farther north, the orange buses of the Area Transportation Authority (ATA) of North Central Pennsylvania travel over more than 5,000 square miles in seven counties.

CEO Michael Imbrogno said the service is needed more than ever as retail shops and grocery stores move farther from town centers.

Without public transit, many older Pennsylvanians could not stay in their homes, he said. "We are an antidote for rural isolation."

Marion Mazenko, 75, of Coalport, uses the ATA shared-ride service almost daily to go to the senior center for lunch.

"You don't have to get worried about how you're going to get somewhere or do something," said Mazenko, who lives alone and stopped driving about five years ago.

She praised the camaraderie of the riders and the helpfulness of the drivers.

"It's my escape," she said. "I'm grateful that it's there."

But rising costs have meant that ATA has had to reduce its already bare-bones service, Imbrogno said. So far the agency has not cut any routes entirely, but hours have been reduced and services combined. Imbrogno said capital repairs have been postponed so long that he is expecting half a dozen buses to fail inspection, further reducing service.

Hilary Appelman is a writer living in State College, Pa.

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