• December 19, 2014

Killeen’s seniors deserve better bus transportation

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Posted: Sunday, June 8, 2014 4:30 am

By most accounts, the Killeen area’s mass transit system, the HOP, does a good job filling the transportation gap for those who are unable to drive.

But some local seniors are complaining that the system isn’t adequately meeting their needs — and that’s a problem that merits scrutiny.

These older riders assert that the schedule for door-to-door service is unreliable, its cost is too high, and the process to qualify for the service is cumbersome and somewhat arbitrary.

The door-to-door service is available only to riders whose physical challenges make it impossible to use the HOP’s fixed-route service. Many of these riders are in wheelchairs or otherwise unable to walk to the nearest bus stop.

But paperwork used in the application process for door-to-door service is complicated and lengthy, according to a former senior center program director. Moreover, she said, no assistance is available for applicants, especially those who have limited mastery of English.

Further, seniors note the HOP’s process of being declared “disabled” is somewhat arbitrary. Riders must label themselves disabled, and their applications are reviewed by a board without any input from a medical doctor.

Another obstacle to some seniors is the price of ridership. The cost of the special door-to-door transit service is $2 each way — not an insignificant sum for someone on a fixed income, especially if several trips are taken in the same week. Discounts are available for some riders, but it can still be a financial burden if frequent rides are necessary.

Finally, the HOP provides one free trip to these seniors, as required by state law — transportation to and from a local senior center for a weekly communal meal. But this service has drawn complaints because the bus schedule is unreliable. Stories of long waits for a bus and sooner-than-anticipated pickups at the senior center illustrate the frustration many of these seniors have.

Obviously, some adjustments in HOP’s operating procedures are called for.

Granted, it’s not inexpensive to run a mass transit system that serves a nine-county area. But it seems better use could be made of the funding — 80 percent of which comes from federal and state money, with the remainder supplied by local governmental entities and the system’s riders.

Killeen’s budget allocates just over $134,000 to the HOP for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. In addition, the city recently was awarded $400,715 in federal and state funds from the Texas Department of Transportation “to enhance rural and urban mobility programs.” In this instance that is the HOP.

According to TxDOT, the funding is to help provide services to seniors, people with disabilities and other transit-dependent residents who rely on aid to get to work, school and health care facilities.

But the Hill Country Transit District, which operates the HOP, intends to use those funds for operating expenses, such as drivers’ salaries, fuel and bus maintenance.

No doubt, these expenditures will generally benefit riders. But going forward, more must be done to help our community’s seniors get around with more convenience and comfort — and at less cost.

The city should consider funding a voucher program for seniors that would let them ride the fixed-route system for free and receive door-to-door service at a reduced rate. It should also provide waivers to allow all seniors to use the door-to-door service in some instances, such as urgent-care medical issues, pharmacy visits and rides to the polls.

During the city’s municipal election in May, several seniors reported staying home because they couldn’t get to the polls and couldn’t afford the $4 round-trip charged by the HOP. Changing that policy would increase voter participation at a relatively negligible cost.

Ultimately, Killeen does a good job accommodating its seniors, staffing two quality senior centers and offering a variety of programs and services.

Helping them get around the city a little easier should be the next priority.

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