Getting around

A paratransit employee helps a blind man into a van.

Being stuck in the house with nothing to do because you’re
cash-strapped is bad enough, but if age or disability keep you from
outings you used to enjoy, county services are available to help,
and getting signed up in South Valley towns has never been
Being stuck in the house with nothing to do because you’re cash-strapped is bad enough, but if age or disability keep you from outings you used to enjoy, county services are available to help, and getting signed up in South Valley towns has never been easier.

Under the provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, areas like San Benito and Santa Clara counties provide transportation services for those who can’t get around on their own and who meet minimum guidelines for disability.

“Basically, we have programs for people who cannot take the regular system the way it is,” said Lupe Solis, a spokeswoman for the Valley Transit Authority.

If you or someone you love is disabled or elderly, or if you face restricted access to transportation here’s how you can get around in the South Valley.

Santa Clara County

Dial-a-Ride, the county’s transportation service for residents living in homes prohibitively far from scheduled bus routes, no longer exists in Santa Clara County, according to VTA spokeswoman Lupe Solis, so residents in need must either access set bus routes or apply for paratransit services.

Gilroy and Morgan Hill residents who wish to use paratransit, which offers door-to-door transport within the county for anything from shopping to doctors’ appointments to church visits, must fill out a paratransit application form and deliver it to the VTA office, but the authority’s procedures are now easier to follow from that point.

Paratransit acceptance requires a doctor’s approval stating that the patient is unable to access bus routes on his or her own due to physical or mental impairment.

But getting acceptance just got easier for county residents, said Solis, because VTA officials will now transport prospective paratransit members to their disability screening for free.

Eligible residents are urged to call and make appointments for their transportation at least 48 hours in advance for the service, which is used by an average of 3,340 people in the county each weekday.

Co-payments, or small fees met by county budgets, start with a minimum charge of $3.50 for one round trip if the return time is set prior to pick-up. These fees cap at $7 for an open-ended round trip where riders may call whenever they are ready for the service. Prices are set by the service, which responds to an average of 900,000 pick-up calls in a year.

For more information, call (408) 321-7067 or (408) 436-2865 .

San Benito County

If you live more than 1/2 mile from the nearest scheduled bus stop, you may also use the county’s Dial-a-Ride system at any point in time, regardless of your age or physical ability. Reservations are recommended 48 hours in advance, and if you call at the last-minute you may wait up to 30 minutes.

For those who feel they may meet paratransit criteria, the application process is relatively simple. To qualify, you must meet one or more of the following criteria:

• cannot board, ride or exit a fixed route bus because of physical, mental or visual impairment

• cannot travel 1/2 mile on your own

• cannot grasp coins and tickets

• cannot stand on a bus or wait 15 minutes or more for a bus

• cannot follow or understand travel directions

• already have an ADA paratransit identification card from another area

All paratransit approvals require doctor’s consent, which is usually obtained by the transit agency itself. In the case of San Benito County, should your doctor not respond to queries within 21 days, the agency usually issues approval anyway.

“We don’t like to turn people away,” said Lezama. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve only had to issue two rejections, and I’ve been here two years.”

The paratransit system, which currently serves 195 San Benito County residents, takes those who live inside the Hollister city limits to in-town destinations of their choice for 75 cents and those outside of the city limits, but within the county can ride to the in-county destination of their choice for $1.

In April alone, paratransit services gave 1,140 rides to seniors and 1,611 rides to members of the disabled community. Another 300 rides were paid for by wheelchair-bound county residents accessing bus lines.

But for residents traveling outside the county, access points are more limited. That’s where the nonprofit group Jovenes de Antaño comes in.

The group offers low-cost transport to areas as far as the Stanford/Palo Alto area, according to Vicky Rivera, the group’s transportation coordinator.

“We only provide medical appointment transportation, but I’m here from 8am to 4:30pm for people to make appointments, and we will get them there,” said Rivera. “If they need to get to Stanford by 8am, they’ll be there, and if we need to start at 4am, we’ll be there.”

Rivera said the group charges $5 for transport to Gilroy or Salinas area and $10 for trips to Stanford, but does not deny transportation to customers who are unable to pay the fee.

For more information on paratransit in San Benito County, call (831) 637-7665 and for more information on medical transport from Jovenes de Antaño, call (831) 637-9275.

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