Partnership secures transportation for seniors

An EZ-Rider program that transports senior citizens throughout Ector County will remain in place to promote independent living among the elderly population.
EZ-Rider staff members and Ector County Senior Center Director Donna Greaves first brought the proposal to the Commissioners’ Court in 2015. Commissioners were asked to support a matching grant of up to $249,000 and they approved $50,000 to fund the service during that year. The agreement has continued to be an investment county officials support.
The continuation of the county’s partnership with the Midland Odessa Urban Transit District for 2020 was approved by commissioners Tuesday with a 4-0 vote. Precinct 4 Commissioner Armando Rodriguez, who is on the Odessa transit board, abstained.
EZ-Rider General Manger Gennie Garcia said providing the service would require a local match of $52,184 from the county this upcoming year to account for adjustments to employee pay. She said the county contribution helps cover costs associated with wages, fuel and vehicle maintenance and labor.
“We have 42 seniors right now that utilize this transportation with EZ-Rider almost every single day of the week,” Greaves said. “This grant makes it possible for the seniors to have transportation to the center of their choice at no charge.”
Nancy Cotten is 83 years old and said she has used the transit for about a year to visit the senior center up to five times a week. Cotten said she also participates in the monthly trip organized to take seniors to grocers like Walmart.
“It gives me the opportunity to not have to depend on someone,” Cotten said. “I can do my errands and still be able to come to the senior center.”
Greaves said the county once had 15-passenger vans to help seniors navigate their way around but that approach ended up restricting who they could serve. She said seniors with limited mobility struggled to get in and out of the vans.
“The grant made a big impact,” she said. “In fact, our numbers grew because we were able to reach more seniors. The seniors were very excited to know and see that they were going to be able to just walk up on a platform and be raised up into the bus and not have to worry about am I going to be able to step that high, get in that 15-passenger van and then think about walking sideways to get into seats.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons sought clarification from Greaves during the meeting and asked if the requested funds would best cater to the needs of seniors.
“Forty-two seniors taking advantage of this is over $1,000 per person,” Simmons said. “The same dollars could hire two more people to work in the senior center instead of paying to bring people to the center.”
Greaves said the service was vital to the physical and mental well being of seniors.
“I think one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is how important this transportation program is for our seniors,” Greaves said.
Greaves said many residents would not have an avenue for daily socialization without this program, and 42 residents a day can add up to tens of thousands of EZ-Rider trips for residents who may not have the ability to drive or family members to assist them.
Cotten said she would either be reading or watching television all day if she was not able to go to the senior center. She said the transportation service helps get her out of her home and keeps her moving.
EZ-Rider has made several posts online between December and February that inform residents of route closures due to a shortage of drivers.
Greaves said that has not been a problem for seniors needing rides.
“We have never had any of our seniors call and say they refused to pick me up today because they don’t have enough drivers,” she said. “They’re shorthanded and sometimes they’re a little later than normal dropping off and picking up, but we all try to work together and we just keep it going. They always make sure our seniors get picked up.”