Fairfax County transportation and human services officials have organized a transportation service that provides free or inexpensive rides to elderly, low-income or handicapped persons who find it difficult to travel around the county.

The system, called FASTRAN, which stands for Fairfax Specialized Transportation, started operations Jan. 2 and has already averaged 1,100 one-way rides a day for residents who are unable to use public transportation for trips to the supermarket, pharmacy or medical clinics.

The service is available for residents of Fairfax County, Falls Church and Fairfax City.

Glenn D. Millis, a county transportation coordinator who helped plan and design FASTRAN, said Fairfax County's new passenger service is the largest transportation system of its kind in Virginia, with a fleet of 52 vans and small buses available to the program.

"The program has run as smoothly as I could possibly expect," Millis said. "We've missed a few people here and there, but considering we are just starting something this big, well, it's getting better every day."

In April 1985, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million contract with a private nonprofit service, Transportation in Public Service, or TRIPS, to manage and operate FASTRAN for 18 months.

Millis said the company provides the county with 21 vehicles, managers, supervisors, dispatchers, drivers and other administrative personnel to oversee the program.

He said the supervisors also allocated $1 million for the purchase of 31 vans and small buses, including twelve 16-passenger "small school bus types" and nineteen 12-passenger vans equipped with wheelchair lifts.

Two local taxicab companies have signed contracts with FASTRAN, putting a total of 200 taxis at the service's disposal. "If we have a situation where it is cheaper to use a cab, we use a cab. We provide that service on a case by case basis," Millis said.

FASTRAN mainly serves residents who are aided by one of the following human services agencies: the Department of Community Action, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, the Area Agency on Aging and the Department of Recreation and Community Services. Most of those using FASTRAN include poor families, mentally ill or retarded persons and low-income or infirm elderly residents.

FASTRAN passengers can use either the system's "subscription service" or the "dial-a-ride" method to get to their appointments and jobs or go grocery shopping.

"The subscription service picks up clients on a regular basis at the same time," said Robert Koreski, director of the county's Office of Human Services. "The dial-a-ride system is where a client calls up TRIPS headquarters in advance and requests a ride to such and such a place for the next day."

Koreski said the special transportation service often offers free rides to its users, but some participating agencies do charge their clients a nominal fare.

The county's Area Agency on Aging, which specializes in services for persons over 60, asks for a donation of 50 cents a ride from clients who use FASTRAN -- but only if the passenger can afford it.

Carla B. Pittman, director of the area agency on aging, said FASTRAN is available to any of her clients who would otherwise be housebound.

"We mail contribution requests straight to the person," Pittman said. "If they can afford to pay, they do . . . but income doesn't figure."

Millis said FASTRAN primarily operates only on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but its hours are flexible to meet the needs of the passenger. Starting July 1, he said, FASTRAN will offer charter weekend services for the various agencies.

"But right now if a county human service department would like to transport a group of handicapped children to some recreational activity on the weekend or at night, we let them," Millis said.

For more information on FASTRAN, call the human services department's information and referral branch at 691-3253.