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Connecticut

Need a Lift? Call Dial-A-Ride

Transportation program helps older people get where they need to go

Dial-a-ride

Yvonne DeMatteo, a driver for the Greater New Haven Transit District, said that driving the Dial-A-Ride bus is the best job she’s ever had because she enjoys talking to her passengers. — Michelle Nolan

Yvonne DeMatteo will tell you she's got the greatest job in the world. So you might be surprised to hear she spends most of her workday in traffic. But she loves every minute.

DeMatteo, 46, is a licensed driver for Dial-A-Ride for the Greater New Haven Transit District (GNHTD), a local- and state-subsidized program that gives people who are 60-plus or disabled access to on-demand, low-cost, door-to-door transportation provided by trained and licensed bus drivers. During her eight-hour shift, she drives at least 125 miles and may pick up between 15 and 20 clients, taking them shopping, to doctor's appointments or to visit friends.

See also: Transportation options for non-drivers.

"I'm giving people back their independence," she said proudly. "I give them a chance to get out of the house and do the things they want to do. Without this, so many people would have no choice but to stay home alone."

She's right, said Claudio Gualtieri, AARP Connecticut senior program specialist for public affairs. Without any widespread public transportation, older people depend heavily on rides from services like Dial-A-Ride, and most municipalities have at least some program in place to help them get to the places they need to be.

AARP was instrumental in getting public funding for these programs. In 2006, the legislature allocated $5 million to municipalities for transportation for older people and people with disabilities, but the towns had to provide matching funds. Of the state's 186 towns, 125 decided to participate. Some metropolitan areas, like New Haven, pooled their resources with surrounding towns and shared buses and drivers, said Donna Carter, executive director of the GNHTD. Others used the money to augment their existing transportation services.

Some ride services allow only trips to senior centers, grocery store and medical appointments, while others provide rides to just about anywhere. In New Haven, for instance, older people pay $2.50 per ride and can go wherever they wish within their 12-town region. In Guilford, three vans are available four days a week to take people shopping and to medical appointments in town, and a contribution is voluntary.

In Beacon Falls, population 5,600, Bernadette Dionne, 71, president of the senior center and a retired bus driver, is paid to provide free rides in the town-owned van. The program was recently cut from five days to four because of costs.

Next: Programs are facing cutbacks. >>

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