Hinesburg Rides on volunteer power

HINESBURG Karla Munson gazed out of her window and couldnt help but notice the ACRT and SSTA buses that were carrying passengers along Route 116. The buses belonged to a new program that is taking aim at rural transportation issues and it may heavily impact the way other Vermont communities approach transportation in the future. Often, the buses transport kidney patients to South Burlington for dialysis and there may be only one person on the whole bus. That got Munson, a member of the Village Steering Committee thinking, thinking there had to be a better way to provide transportation, one that did not include running nearly empty buses 20-30 miles into Burlington. When a town-wide survey indicated a genuine need for transportation throughout Hinesburgs demographic, the idea of a volunteer driver program started to grow. A person with a broken leg might need a ride to the grocery store or the pharmacy. An elderly person might need a ride to the doctors office. Local businesses such as NRG Corp and Saputo also expressed an interest in employee transportation. That these issues might be more efficiently handled by neighbors helping neighbors planted the seed for all that would follow. In December 2006 a meeting was held that included the VTrans, See POWER, page 8 Power From page 1 Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization (CCMPO), the Chitenden Country Transportation Authority (CCTA) the Special Services Transportation Agency (SSTA) and a number of other organizations and interested people. Everybody came, said Munson. The outcome of the meeting was an application for a $30,000 grant from the United We Ride program, a national initiative created by President Bush in 2004. The grant was awarded in Spring 2007, with the condition that it was used by December of the same year, which kicked the program into even higher gear. CCMPO helped the town administer the grant and the town hired a pair of consultants to get things going. SSTA would be on board to administer the future drivers. Before long, they had settled on the name Hinesburg Rides and published posters, brochures and a driver program. Of course, they needed volunteers to step up and get the program literally in gear. We browbeat people into becoming volunteer drivers, said Munson. Today, the program has twelve drivers, cleared through background checks, who are ready and willing to drive Hinesburg residents to appointments, on shopping trips or wherever they need to go. Need is a critical component, and Karla points out that the program is not designed to be a taxi service, but rather to provide a critical service to those who need it. Its the first program (of its kind) in Chittenden County and were learning as we go, and feeling our way, she said. The program is still working out some driver and rider procedures, but as it stands today, people who need a ride are welcome to call Munson, who will explain the system to them, and send them a riders procedure brochure. She then calls SSTA, who is in charge of arranging the specific drivers. At that point, many of the drivers will call the new rider, introduce themselves and arrange a time for departure. Were willing to be a model program, and to help other towns set up their own program if they want to, said Munson. I think it will be happening all over. Drivers are still needed for the program. Because of the rapidly rising cost of gasoline, drivers have the option of either donating their time and fuel, or applying for mileage reimbursement through SSTA. Either way, their efforts will be appreciated by the Hinesburg Rides organization and by the many people whom they hope to serve. Anyone interested in being a volunteer driver or who would like to arrange a ride may call Karla Munson at 482-2778 or SSTA at 878-1527 for information and assistance.

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