Assist, Inc., a private, non-profit agency providing free bus transportation for the elderly and handicapped in Farifax County since October, has requested a $63,696 federal grant to help purchase new buses and radio communications equipment.
The transportation service now operates two 11-15 passenger maxi-vans five days a week and provides limited door-to-door service on the request of senior citizens. A pilot program, it is funded through a $35,000 grant from the Fairfax County Agency for the Aging. Donna Foster, director of the agency, said she believe the program is working well.
"It is a very good concept and we will support the proposal for new buses," she said. Foster said her staff will be reviewing the cost effectiveness of the three-month old program and it is likely that they will request continued funding in next year's conty budget. The pilot grant was provided to the county with monies from the federal Older Americans Act.
The additional funding for buses has been requested by Assist under the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964. If approved, it would provided 80 per cent of the estimated purchase price for seven additional maxi-vans, one of which be equipped to accommodate wheel chairs.
Richard Gaylen, president of Assist, said that the additional 20 per cent matching funds required would be sought through donations or from non-federal agency grants.
The $35,000 now received from the county is used to pay the salaries of the two van drivers, maintenance and gasoline for the buses, a share of the van payment costs, part of the operation manager's salary and part of the dispatching expenses.
According to Gaylen, $11,000 worth of additional services and equipment is provided by Assist. This includes such thigns as expertise in bookkeeping, scheduling procedures and training. The Yellow Cab Company in Falls Church provides both office space and dispatch operators for Assist.
The Assist number is 534-8989 and agency will take requests 24 hours at day from elderly and handicapped persons in Fairfax County who are over 60 years of age and in need of transportation. Those wanting a ride must call 24 hours in advance. The ride is free but 25 cent donations are encouraged.
Assist operations manager, Andrew Appersion, said he has divided the county into nine zones and thet they serve one or two zones a day. On assigned days, senior citizens who call the office in advance can be taken any where door-to-door, within their zone. Maps defining the zones are available on the buses and from the county's office on the aging, located in the Massey Building in Fairfax.
In addition, every day the buses make trips along the major traffic coridors. For example, the buses will travel along 1-495 between Tyson's Corner and 1-95, stopping at such places as the Fairfax County Hospital complex along the way. They also travel along 1-95 between Landmark and Springfield Malls.
The number of passengers who use the service is increasing every week. Apperson said. Two weeks ago, approximately 250 people used the service. Gaylen estimated that the count for the month of December may go as high as 1,200.
Gaylen, who said he gets no salary for his Assist work, said he has been in the transportation business - limousines, taxicabs, dial-a-ride, courier service and package delivery service - for 20 years.
He has asked that those passengers and interested citizens who support or want to comment on the proposed expansion of his program write to the Assist office, 1200 N. Hudson St., Arlington or to D.W. Berg. Transportation Planning Department, Va. Dept. of Higways, Richmond, Va.
The funding request must first be approved by the Northern Virginia Highway Department Planning Office and then by the state highway planning office. If approved, it will be included in the state's federal block grant requests.