AUGUSTA — Supporters of a proposal for the city to help fund two new bus runs that would rotate among senior citizen housing complexes in Augusta say it could help free the approximately 500 residents who live in them from being stranded in their rooms when buses aren’t running, on nights and weekends.

In the proposal, an initiative of local senior citizen advocacy group Augusta Age Friendly, the city would partner with Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which already runs buses that provide transportation to the public in and around Augusta, though those buses currently only run during the day on weekdays.

The proposal would offer one new bus run one evening a week, and one during the day on Saturdays, to serve residents of the city’s nine senior citizen housing complexes. Residents of those complexes would be grouped into one of four groups, according to Bob MacDougall, co-chairman of Augusta Age Friendly. And the buses would rotate between serving the four groups, providing rides to one group one week, and one of the other groups the following week.

Residents would have to agree ahead of time on the group’s destination on any particular day, MacDougall said. He said even that limited offering could provide a way for older residents who don’t have their own cars to get out to the movies or go shopping at night or on a weekend, when they might otherwise not be able to get anywhere, unless they can afford a taxi, when the KVCAP buses aren’t running.

“On the weekends, they’re in prison, for all intents and purposes, they’re in their four walls and they can’t get out,” MacDougall said of some residents of senior housing complexes.

The city’s commitment to the proposal, which would be a trial run to see how it goes, would be $10,000 councilors appropriated last year, in addition to $20,000 in annual funding the city provides to KVCAP to help fund its other transportation services. City councilors last year dedicated the $10,000 to transportation, but left open how it should be used because at the time there was not consensus on how it should be specifically used, just that it should be used to help improve public transportation, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

MacDougall and Augusta Mayor David Rollins said the additional bus runs are a way to start small, in pursuit of what they hope can become a more expansive public transportation system to help improve the lives of senior citizens in Augusta by making it a more livable community.

“That’s not what we’re looking to accomplish, that’s our start,” Rollins said of the program when it was discussed at last week’s Augusta City Council meeting. “These are folks who spent, most of them, most of their lives in Augusta, as taxpayers, working, raising kids. … Now they find themselves in the senior part of their lives warehoused in these homes. If $10,000, in a $50 million budget, enhances their ability to interact with us, I’ll vote to support this population.”

City councilors meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center to consider whether to authorize Bridgeo to contract with KVCAP, for an amount not to exceed $10,000 for enhanced bus service to and from senior housing complexes in the city.

Rollins said the $10,000 won’t pay for the entire program, but KVCAP would also collects fees from the bus riders. McDougall said it now costs $1.25 to ride a KVCAP bus, but he suggested charging $2 for the weekend run.

MacDougall said surveys of senior citizens in Augusta indicated transportation was their biggest concern. He said survey results indicated some elderly residents felt socially isolated by not being able to get out and about.

Augusta Age Friendly co-chairman Duane Scott and other volunteers looked at transportation options for senior citizens including volunteer driving programs, but didn’t find one they thought would work for Augusta.

At-Large City Councilor Mark O’Brien said, if the city provides the $10,000 for the proposal, he’d expect to see data compiled so officials could see how many people use the service, so the city can determine whether the money is well-spent or not, especially since the money would be used to serve a subset of the community, not all residents.

Rollins said if the program doesn’t generate enough ridership to make it worth doing, and isn’t successful, then it won’t continue.

Councilors on Thursday are also scheduled to:

• Recognize Sgt. Danny Boivin upon his retirement from the police department;

• Honor the Elks Club for its 150th anniversary;

• Consider reducing the number of members of the Augusta Historic District Review Board required for a quorum from five to four;

• Consider making Maple Street no parking on one side and;

• Consider submitting an application to the state to change the Ward 1 polling place from the Augusta State Armory to Buker Community Center.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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