FRANK TALK FOR SENIORS: Easy – Lift Unveils GGAT for senior transportation

Frank Newton

February 15, 2011 5:40 AM
When I lived in Barcelona, the last thing I needed was a car. Stores and services I needed were within walking distance; and since buses and subways were cheap and convenient, getting anywhere in the city was quick and easy.
That’s nowhere near the reality in the U.S., especially in sprawling Los Angeles or even here in our idyllic but spread out Santa Barbara. Not having a car can make you feel like a prisoner in your own home. Ask any non-driving teenager — or for that matter, ask any elderly person who can no longer drive.

At the Santa Barbara Aging Symposium in 2008, transportation was highlighted as one of the key problems facing local elderly. As a consequence, explains Easy Lift’s executive director Ernesto Paredes, just a short while after that symposium he got a phone call from former county supervisor Naomi Schwartz. She called him to ask a single, pivotal question: “What are we going to do about senior transportation?”

That question, Ernesto says, along with a $5,000 grant through Naomi from the Gildea Foundation, got the ball rolling for what ultimately has become GATT (Greatest Generation Accessible Transportation). GGAT is a senior transportation pilot program that Easy Lift is kicking off this month.

Stepping back for a moment from this scenario, you might wonder why Naomi, of all people, would call Ernesto. Naomi was one of the chief organizers of the Aging Symposium; and as a director of the Gildea Foundation, she had some financial resources to address key problems identified at the symposium. She called Ernesto because, if there is anyone in Santa Barbara County who has his finger on the pulse of our local senior transportation issues, it is the director of Easy Lift.
Easy Lift, to be technically correct, does not provide transportation services based on age. Easy Lift is a nonprofit that was founded in 1981 expressly to serve the distinctive transportation needs of individuals who are physically or cognitively disabled. The agency presently has about 2,000 subscribers and provides wheelchair-accessible van service for approximately 200 riders every day. The riders’ major need for transportation is medical appointments, then food and nutritional needs, and then recreation. And although age is not a criterion, a large number of Easy Lift’s riders happen to be elderly. In that context, Naomi calling Ernesto made perfect sense.

Building on the seed money provided by the Gildea grant, Easy Lift developed the GGAT plan explicitly aimed at helping Santa Barbara seniors with transportation. A $100,000 grant from CalTrans was awarded for a two-year pilot project, with matching funds required from local foundations. Ernesto also was able to find a 20-passenger van that a community group no longer needed. So, with funding and a vehicle in hand, as Ernesto explains, “we’re now on the cusp of beginning the GGAT service.”

Specifically, the Greatest Generation Accessible Transportation service consists of partnerships between Easy Lift and senior organizations or residential communities. Easy Lift provides the van service to and from a designated location, and the senior organization provides 15-20 riders. The Easy Lift van takes the group to an event or site they want (for example, a shopping mall or a show), then picks them up at a set time and drives them back. The target audience is active, ambulatory individuals age 50-plus, as opposed to frail elderly. The organization pays for the van charter, but the senior riders don’t pay Easy Lift a dime.

Ernesto points out that GGAT is a direct response to a growing demand among seniors in Santa Barbara. First of all, the number of older adults locally is steadily increasing. Second, senior residential facilities and other senior organizations are cutting back on their van services because of rising gasoline prices and other operating costs. Even volunteer driver services (for example, at local churches for Sunday services) are also diminishing because the volunteers are now facing higher gasoline costs.

Thus far, Easy Lift has established GGAT partnerships with the Goleta Valley Senior Center, the Community Action Commission, Family Service Agency, Laguna Cottages and Santa Barbara City Housing Authority. “That’s a start,” Ernesto says, but he’s looking for more senior residential and community organizations to step forward and sign up for the GGAT service.

“We’re testing out this transit model for seniors,” Ernesto says, “and we’d like more local organizations to take advantage of this new service.”

If you belong to a senior organization that could use a hassle-free van service, please give Easy Lift a call. Contact Ernesto Paredes at 681-1410 and find out all the details. It just may prove to be the one-stop solution to your organization’s transportation needs.

Santa Barbara-based Frank Newton has worked with seniors in various capacities over many years, including as director of the Southwest Society on Aging in Dallas. His column appears every other week. Opinions expressed in the column are his, and not necessarily those of the
newspaper. E-mail him at franktalk@cox.net.

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