AUGUSTA — City councilors approved a proposal to help start two new bus runs they hope will help free senior citizens who don’t drive from being stranded and unable to get around Augusta when other buses aren’t running.

The buses would serve residents of senior citizen housing complexes in Augusta, on one weeknight and one weekend day each week when other public transportation options are scarce.

Proponents hope the commitment of $10,000 in city money to partner with Kennebec Valley Council of Governments in providing the new service eventually will lead to a larger transportation system to help the city’s elderly residents get around when they are no longer able to drive themselves, and prevent them from feeling stranded in their rooms.

In the proposal, an initiative of local senior citizen advocacy group Augusta Age Friendly, the city would partner with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which already runs buses that provide transportation to the public in and around Augusta. However, the agency’s buses currently run only during the day on weekdays, with no service at night or on weekends.

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.

Jim Wood, transportation development director for KVCAP, said his organization could look at having activity nights, when residents of the senior complexes could go out to events in the community.

Residents would have to agree in advance on the group’s destination on any particular day, MacDougall said. He said it’s a small start that 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 otherwise might not be able to get anywhere, unless they can afford a taxi, when the KVCAP buses aren’t running.

Councilors voted 7-0 Thursday to authorize City Manager William 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.

The program is expected to start in April, and Bridgeo anticipates it running for at least a year, as a pilot program.

Wood said KVCAP will track who rides the buses and how many people use them

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander said she hopes seniors will use the buses.

“It’s good to put money toward something but even better when you put money toward something and it is actually used for that purpose,” she said. “We’ve been well-educated on the needs of our seniors. So I hope they take full advantage of this. Go out there, go to Walmart, go to the movies, go to other businesses around town.”

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

City councilors appropriated $10,000 last year, in addition to $20,000 in annual funding the city provides to KVCAP to help fund its other transportation services. Councilors last year dedicated the $10,000 to transportation but left open how it should be used because at the time there was no consensus on how it should be used, just that it should be used to help improve public transportation, according to Bridgeo.

MacDougall and Rollins said the additional bus runs are a way to start with a small program and hopefully build upon it to create a more expansive public transportation system to help improve the lives of senior citizens in Augusta by making it a more livable community.

“This isn’t the ending, just a start,” Rollins said.

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 places.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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