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Transportation: Santa Clarita officials seeks volunteers to assist seniors using public transit

Posted: April 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 4, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Patrick Bryant, administrative analyst for Santa Clarita, left, goes over forms for the city’s Senior Transit Ambassador program with Carmen Cuadros, of Valencia, at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Wednesday.

 

Did you know, if you’re a Santa Clarita Valley resident aged 60 or over, you can ride a city of Santa Clarita bus for free?

That is one of the messages Adrian Aguilar, transit manager for the city of Santa Clarita, is hoping to spread with a new Senior Transit Ambassador program.

“Most seniors are retired and living on a fixed income, so transportation costs are always an issue,” Aguilar said. “There’s also a mobility issue. We want to make sure these folks have ways to get out and maintain an active lifestyle.”

In order to get the word out about its free fares and extensive service routes to the large population of seniors in the valley, the city decided to launch a Senior Transit Ambassador program.

At a recent reception at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall, Aguilar laid out the program details to attendees.

Ambassadors, or volunteers, would be seniors who ride the bus in shifts in order to provide real-time assistance to seniors that have questions about routes or other issues associated with public transit.

“The biggest issues (are that) seniors may have anxiety where or how to ride the bus, so we thought, ‘Why not get together a group of seniors to help them?’” Aguilar said. “This would give them someone they can relate to, not a 20-year-old, saying, ‘You can do this,’ but rather a peer group that has similar issues with mobility and what not.”

The city will provide ambassadors with training on basics, such as operating routes and how to read a schedule, in a 60- to 90-minute discussion-type class, with hands-on training to follow. Classes are scheduled to start in late spring or early summer.

“We’ll go through planning a trip, such as from the Senior Center to the mall, pull up a schedule, plan it out, board as a group and go to destination,” Aguilar said. “Then we’ll come back and answer any questions. We’ll probably do that three times, for the comfort level of the ambassadors, before turning them loose on the buses.”

Ambassadors will wear colorful hats, shirts or jackets to distinguish themselves from other riders, and announce their availability to answer questions.

“It’s similar to programs where folks are stationed at the Metrolink to answer questions,” Aguilar said.

The most important qualification for ambassadors, according to Aguilar, is enthusiasm.

“They don’t need to be riders, just willing to learn and anxious to teach others,” he said. “They should have a confidence level and energy, once they’ve gone through training, that they can share that knowledge with other folks.”

Beyond promoting the free fares, the city also wanted to cut back on usage of the current Dial-a-Ride program, which costs $2 per ride and requires reservations of one to seven days in advance.

“Some folks truly need it; they may have no other options, because of a disability or whatever. Unfortunately, that kind of service requires extensive resources, and it’s cost-prohibitive,” Aguilar said. “Some folks are better served by a fixed route. That’s why we put our heads together on how we can meet the demands for same-day service and help seniors maintain mobility. We want to transition some of these folks over.”

The city of Santa Clarita’s fixed-route bus service starts daily at 6 a.m. and ends at approximately 10 p.m. Buses run about every half-hour.

“You’re not limited to a bus being there at 1 p.m. and coming back at 3 p.m.,” Aguilar said. “You can leave at 11 a.m. and stay at your destination until 4 p.m., just by catching the next bus.”

Seniors can simply show identification marking their age in order to board for free or apply for a Transit Access Pass card online at www.taptogo.net, or in person at City Hall or the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center.

Once a core group of senior transit ambassadors are trained, which Aguilar anticipates as happening by this summer, local field trips are in the future.

“These will be trips for groups to go to the Performing Arts Center or the mall or the farmers market or downtown Newhall to see a play. We’ll make it open to anyone,” Aguilar said. “We’ll have trained riders on board to answer any questions.”

For more information on the Senior Transit Ambassador program, contact Patrick Ryan at (661) 295-6304 or pbryant@santa-clarita.com.

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