Public transportation for the elderly residents of Mantua and Parkside can be a struggle to find. Handicaps make taking local buses and trolleys run by South Eastern Philadelphia Transit Authority (SEPTA), a struggle. Further, with over 40 percent of the area living below the poverty line, affordable alternatives are difficult to come by.
Seniors in the neighborhoods can take solace in the services offered by Haddington Multi Services for Older Adults, located on Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia. The senior community center, which provides everything from a home cooked meal to computer classes, also offers SEPTA’s paratransit service—for free.
Customized Community Transportation, or CCT as it is referred to by most users, is the Americans with Disabilities Act alternative service offered by SEPTA. Available everywhere the regional transit service currently extends, CCT gives handicapped or elderly adults door-to-door service for the relatively inexpensive sum of a $4 one-way fare.
Most users pay directly out of pocket for the service, which, despite being significantly cheaper than a private car or taxi, can add up. Doctor’s appointments, family visits, and social outings make the service a daily to weekly activity for some commuters.
With the backing of grants through Philadelphia’s Corporation for the Aging, Haddington has offered CCT gratis for decades.
“I don’t know what we’d do without it. People who couldn’t come [to programs] before can now make the trip. We have a much higher attendance now,” said Geneva Black, the executive director of the center.
Last year, nearly $7,000 was granted to the organization specifically for use on transportion, and adds up to quite a few rides. “We prioritize doctor’s appointments, but we do also offer the service for social functions and recreational activities,” said Black.
She estimates roughly 30 of the 100 people who come to the center daily use CCT. Instead of calling the transit service directly, elderly adults call Haddington’s transit coordinator who schedules the trip for them. As long as arrangements are made 24 hours in advance, the service guarantees a pickup.
Despite offering steep discounts on subways and buses for those who cannot afford it, SEPTA does not have any additional cuts for CCT users.
“The service actually costs us about $40 a ride, but most of that is subsidized through federal and state funding. We only charge $4 a ride, so there is already a significant reduction,” said SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch. The fiscal year ending June 2009 provided SEPTA with $533 million in state aid and $32 million from the federal government. Allocations to CCT are made accordingly within the company’s operational budget.
SEPTA estimates nearly 8,000 CCT trips per day. Although offering the service in four counties surrounding Philadelphia–Montgomery, Berks, Chester and Bucks–the majority of scheduled trips are made within the city’s borders. Despite the chaotic atmosphere one might assume would ensue with such frequent service, neither Black nor Busch have noted significant complaints.
“Occasionally we’ll hear people complain about too many different drivers. I’m always telling them not to open their door to strangers, and every day it’s a different person. I wrote letters to SEPTA, though, and they’ve fixed that. We know nearly all our drivers,” said Black.
Busch concurred. “Outside of regular transportation issues—you know, a few minutes late, or weather delays, we really don’t receive a lot of complaints. It’s a very personalized and very specialized service. It’s been really well received,” he said.
Although not offering any direct discounts to users, SEPTA does point passengers in the right direction. Many welfare or medical assistance programs will offer a rate reduction, and they are very willing to help bridge that connection, urging people to make the necessary contacts.
The application process is simple and involves a one-page print out with basic and handicap information. Although the only requirement for the service is being over 65 years of age, the form also asks specifics on wheelchairs, canes or other disability items. This information is used to make sure CCT is equipped to help the customer, and for the driver to provide the best assistance. Most senior centers carry the form and, after submitting to SEPTA, users are just a quick call away.
Residents of Mantua and Parkside have a leg up with the free service at Haddington. Instead of worrying about simply affording a trip to the doctor, elderly citizens can make the trek and then stop by the center for courses in jewelry making, a game of dominoes or a peek at the daily lunch offerings. Essentially, providing CCT doesn’t just improve mobility–it improves quality of life.