Flathead County’s Eagle Transit is changing its appointment-based ride service to comply with federal regulations.
Now, people with disabilities and senior citizens who have used the service in the past will have to apply for a “Dial-A-Ride” card. The changes are expected to go into effect on Sept. 1, but Agency on Aging Director Lisa Sheppard said she believes that they will not impact many regular riders.
“We think most people currently using the Dial-A-Ride service will still qualify for it under the new guidelines,” she said.
Eagle Transit operates a regularly scheduled bus service connecting Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish. The Dial-A-Ride service is targeted at those with limited mobility who are unable to use the regular bus service.
For years, people with disabilities and anyone over the age of 60 were able to use it, but earlier this year an audit conducted by the Montana Department of Transportation found that it was not in compliance with the law. Sheppard said federal rules bar bus agencies from offering services like the Dial-A-Ride based on age. In the past, those with disabilities were required to pay $1.50 per ride and those over the age of 60 could make a donation. Starting September, every ride will cost $1.
In order to use the Dial-A-Ride, users will have to submit a two-part application. The first part covers the rider’s needs, while a health professional fills out the second part.
“It’s a straightforward application and it basically determines who can use the Dial-A-Ride service,” she said. “The reasons people don’t drive are typically the same reasons someone would qualify for this service.”
Letters explaining the changes have been sent to more than 500 regular riders. Sheppard is encouraging regular users to get their application in before Aug. 25, but notes that people can apply for the service even after that.
If someone’s application is denied, Sheppard said the rider would have a chance to appeal.
While officials said the changes are not expected to impact most riders, some regulars are still concerned. Mary Lewis, 72, lives in downtown Kalispell and uses Dial-A-Ride to get to the grocery store and other destinations. She said a lot of seniors are on a fixed income and, at a $1 per ride, going back and forth could add up.
“A lot of seniors rely on it because they don’t drive,” she said. “It’s a wonderful bus service. I usually ride the bus two or three times a week. Now, I might cut that down to once a week.”
Sheppard said if people are worried about their costs adding up, Eagle Transit also offers monthly passes for $25 that give the holder unlimited rides. She also said that anyone who holds a Dial-A-Ride card would be able to ride the regular bus for free.
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