By Madeleine Graham
My life changed when my car broke, and I did not have the funds to repair it. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) started when I missed a flight, and then I boarded a wrong bus in Washington State. Fortunately with a lot of friends and family support, I made it back to Michigan.
As a person with both PTSD and bipolar disorder, I depend on two services of the Mass Transportation Authority (MTA): Your Ride and Rides to Wellness. I am also a companion rider with Vets to Wellness.
With Your Ride, I am pretty much assured that I will get to where I am going and arrive safely back home. The door-to-door service is a blessing to me.
And I’m not the only one. Michael Brown, another Your Ride user, said, “I go to church, movies, grocery store, pretty much everything with Your Ride and MTA.”
“The staff are pretty cordial…the drivers are always polite,” Brown said. Sometimes scheduling is messed up, but the staff “are very studious about getting things rectified. I have had to wait for rides over an hour to get another ride, but they’re pretty decent about getting another ride,” he said.
Ed Benning, general manager and CEO of the MTA, founded in 1971, not only understands the need for the services–used by thousands in the county– but is attempting to meet and improve them.
“We are going through what I think is a transformation in public transportation,” Benning said. “We are going through a time when people are aging in place, and the need for specialized services is very important–we are stepping up to fill those gaps.”
“In our community we have many stores that have closed so we have food deserts. We need to address those food deserts so people have access to groceries. We have to provide gap services,” he added.
In addition to its 13 fixed bus routes around Flint, the MTA offers several specialized programs including Your Ride, Rides to Wellness and Veterans to Wellness.
Your Ride is a non-profit personalized public transit service, formerly known as Dial-A-Ride, that provides access to work, grocery stores, or doctor visits. Benning, who has been with the MTA for almost 40 years, says Dial-A-Ride/Your Ride started with five vehicles in the early 1980’s, averaging about 50 trips a day.
Now Your Ride provides about 4,500 rides one way trips a day with 125 vehicles. Night runs for those who work or need a night ride are increasing up to 3,000 a month, he said.
Your Ride has an extensive scheduling program where individuals can call in and plan their own schedule or talk to a coordinator who can take their information, Benning said. It costs the general public $3.50 each way. Seniors and those with disabilities pay $2.25 each way.
The hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday operation is from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Planning is key to taking Your Ride. As I have personally learned, one must be ready within a half hour window for Your Ride for both a trip to a destination and a return ride. Sometimes depending on the number of riders, the trip destination or a trip home can be an hour ride because of the number of riders. Your Ride can be a bit of a challenge as sometimes I am subject to the weather when waiting for a Your Ride.
Twenty-four hour notice is requested when scheduling a Your Ride. If someone needs kidney dialysis, the individual can be placed on a set schedule, placed in a subscription service where they do not need to call each day. If the individual has an Americans with Disability (ADA) card, Your Ride can be scheduled up to 5 p.m. for the next day, stated Benning.
Employees of MTA have extensive training with wheelchairs, scooters and walkers for individuals with mobility issues and attend to safety issues, including making sure the passenger is buckled-in.
Your Ride is funded through a county-wide millage–approved for an additional five years of taxpayer support in the August, 2018 election. The first year is expected to generate about $3.3 million.
Rides to Wellness
Another service is Rides to Wellness. “Rides to Wellness started in 2015, partnering with three agencies: Valley Area Agency on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services and Genesys [Health System]” Benning explained. It assists individuals who are pre-certified, meaning there is money provided on their behalf. Individuals can use the Rides to Wellness to go to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor up to four rides a month.
Booking a Rides to Wellness is an on demand service and the goal is to provide it within 30 minutes of the call, Benning said. An individual can call the same day and get service.
Rides to Wellness today is not open to the general public, though in September, Ride to Wellness will be available to seniors. Later the goal is to offer it to the general public.
When the Rides to Wellness began in September of 2016, the service provided 160 rides its first month. But now it has 100 vehicles providing between 11,000 and 12,000 rides a month.
Currently work-related transit services are being explored and generating a new system to deal with work is being considered.
In addition to taxpayer support for MTA services through the millage, the MTA’s funding includes $310,040 from the Federal Transit Administration for Rides to Wellness; $40,000 from the Flint Jewish Federation for Rides to Wellness; and $734,752 just approved in May from the United States Department of Transportation.
Recently MTA purchased a new computer system that will allow individuals to schedule the Rides to Wellness through an app. The MTA aims to deploy that new software this month, with the goal to be able to schedule the ride online.
People’s ability to get the doctor is critical; prior to Rides to Wellness 40 to 60 percent of medical appointments were no shows. Rides to Wellness’s successes in attempting to reduce that number have made it a model for the nation.
A national model, MTA won 2019 award
As a result, Benning has been asked to speak around the country. The MTA was just recognized as the 2019 Outstanding Urban System of the Year by the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) at its annual Expo–specifically because of the Rides To Wellness program.
The citation noted the “Flint MTA has created a national model for non-emergency medical transportation service in urban areas through its Rides to Wellness program.”
Recently $100,000 was approved for the MTA to enter into a one-year agreement for the MTA with Kevadiya, Inc. in Pontiac for licensing and maintenance services for a web-based Rides to Wellness scheduling software solution based on current usage. The software is not only a maintenance program, but an upgrade, Benning said.
MTA bought the old Baker Transportation Technology Center on Dort Highway and that is where the vehicles for Rides to Wellness are stored.
“We have radio communication in all of our vehicles with the majority being done with automobiles,” Benning said. Drivers use notebooks that show pick-up trips and close trips allowing for the rides to be captured electronically.
High levels of satisfaction
Rides to Wellness conducts daily surveys to measure the quality of the drivers, and the data typically shows 96 % to 98% customer satisfaction, Benning said. Construction seasons makes it a little more difficult, he noted, but overall they do very well.
Providing services that meet the changes is necessary–including transporting families–Benning said, noting Rides to Wellness vehicles have car seats for the babies.
He said Flint MTA officials are helping Saginaw develop a Rides to Wellness program and have identified over 2000 rides a month coming under the umbrella.
Vets to Wellness
Vets to Wellness, sponsored through Veterans’ Services, primarily provides rides to grocery stores and medical visits. Vets to Wellness provides free transportation for vets and their spouses up to four rides per month to Detroit, Ann Arbor and Saginaw.
A Michigan Mobility grant for $603,500 was awarded last October from the Michigan Department of Transportation for the Vets for Wellness.
“Vets Ride to Wellness is a godsend,” stated Vietnam veteran Fred Cobb. “I wouldn’t have any other way to go to doctors’ appointments and the grocery store and with special permission take me to Ann Arbor. I have trouble walking, so I can’t walk to the bus stop.”
“They pick me up on time every time from home and get me to my appointments on time. My return pick-ups are on time every time. All the drivers and dispatchers are friendly and helpful [whether] I am taking a cane or a walker,” Cobb said.
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) card is good for all specialized services. An individual can use the card locally as well as nationally. The individual must have needs which preclude them from using the fixed routes. MTA’s Customer Service unit provides assistance to review an application and help acquire the ADA card.
For more information on the MTA or any of its services, go to mtaflint.org.
For the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) application process, call (810)767-6950
For Your Ride information specifically, go to www.mtaflint.org/yourride or call (810)780-8946.
For veterans to sign up, call (810)257-3068.
New EVM staff writer Madeleine Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com.