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Amherst Senior Center may bring back ride program

Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano told the Council on Aging Thursday that she’d like to create a “Senior Surrey,” which happens to be the name of a similar program that ran from the Bangs Community Center between 1972 and 1996.

“I think it’s a great need and I think it would be a wonderful program for us to have,” Pagano said.

Currently, the only transportation typically provided by the senior center is for grocery shopping. Every Friday, student volunteers from Amherst College drive the center’s van to supermarkets.

But this van cannot be used for transportation by appointment. Pagano said the center uses the van for hauling supplies and Maura Plante and Helen MacMellon, the social workers who assist senior citizens, need it to get to and from meetings with their clients.

This leaves senior citizens who do not have vehicles to rely on family and friends, or the PVTA, which provides guaranteed services for handicapped people. Other senior citizens may use the PVTA “dial-a-ride” service. But the PVTA is mandated to give preference to those riders who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act, while seniors get rides only on a space-available basis.

Plante said this causes stress, as there is always a chance senior citizens will be bumped from their pre-arranged rides, and people with medical appointments who planned ahead could still find themselves without rides.

To set up the “Senior Surrey,” Pagano said, the senior center would sell a 20 passenger mini-bus that was purchased a decade ago and has been used sparingly. That mini-bus, stored at the North Fire Station, is used by a senior travel club for trips but is more often used by the Fire Department for taking staff to meetings. Anyone driving the mini-bus needs to have a commercial driver’s license, and volunteers with that qualification are hard to find, Pagano said.

Once the mini-bus is sold, Pagano said, a surplus PVTA van would be obtained at little or no cost and the proceeds from the sale of the mini-bus would cover the initial operation expenses for the “Senior Surrey,” which would primarily be fuel. Volunteers would drive the van and passengers would be expected to pay. That fee, however, would be less than the cost of the PVTA’s senior ride service, which is $4 for a round trip.

The Council on Aging will form a subcommittee to explore the plan.

“We have to figure out how we do this, but I think it’s a worthy project to take on,” Pagano said.

Pagano said the “Senior Surrey” would use the same “heartfelt name” and draw on the history of the previous program, which by the late 1980s had five vehicles and picked up anyone 60 and over in Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury. But as local, state and federal budgets tightened, the service was diminished and then eliminated in 1996.

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