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Costs on the rise for some Butler transit riders

| Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 6:14 p.m.
Bill Vidonic
From left, Gail Flatley, 69, of Cranberry, Sally Blyth, 82, of New Sewickley, Beaver County, and Harriet Melvin, 74, of Cranberry, play cards at the Cranberry Senior Center in the township municipal building Tuesday. Flatley said she’s grateful for free rides to the center through Butler Area and Rural Transit. Users ages 60-64 now have to pay a 50 percent co-pay for their rides.

Nearly 50 riders of the Butler Area Rural Transit Authority are coping with hefty fee increases for transportation to medical appointments and other destinations.

High gas prices meant that Butler County had no choice but to raise co-pays on some BART users, according to officials with the county's Area Agency on Aging and Community Action and Development. Butler County owns the BART buses, and pays for gas and maintenance.

Riders 65 and older aren't affected.

The agency will continue to pay 100 percent of trips for critical medical transportation, including dialysis and cancer treatments and psych rehab visits. Beginning Aug. 1, riders were required to pay half the cost of trips for adult day services, medical appointments that are not considered critical care, physical therapy, shopping, visitation and hair appointments. The cost ranges from $7.50 to $11.50 for a one-way trip, depending on the length.

Disabled Army veteran William Campbell is wondering how he's going to absorb the price increase. The change could cost him $90 to travel to Butler VA Health System from his Butler Township home for three doctor's appointments.

Because he's in a wheelchair, Campbell, 63, said he has few options. He doubts he can use public transportation, including the Butler Transit Authority, because he leaves so early for some of the trips.

“I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Campbell said Tuesday. “I'll have to juggle my appointments to accommodate this.”

Community Action spends more than $1 million a year on shared-ride programs, said Janine A. Kennedy, the agency's director, with half the money coming from PennDOT for those ages 65 and over.

Kennedy said Community Action has been operating the shared-ride program at a loss, and had to borrow $50,000 last year from county commissioners. With gas prices raising, the monthly fuel bill doubled to about $20,000, and Kennedy said the agency couldn't afford to absorb that increase.

“It's a very complex and expensive program to run,” Kennedy said.

In January, the county raised fares for all BART riders, depending on the length of a trip, from $12.20 to $15, $16.20 to $19 and $20.20 to $23.

Of nearly 73,000 trips for BART users between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 37,652 were for those ages 65 and older, and about 5,000 for those between 60 and 64.

Agency on Aging Director Beth Herold said that her agency couldn't absorb the fee increases because PennDOT doesn't help with reimbursements for the 60 to 64 segment. She said her agency works with about $150,000 a year in transportation money.

“There's nothing I can do,” Herold said. “I wish I could pay for everyone's transportation. It's a statewide problem. It's not just Butler County.”

Mike Robb, head of Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, a support agency for nonprofit groups which operates BART for the county, said that the agency isn't planning any route cuts or changes.

Gail Flatley is grateful for the free BART service from her Cranberry home to the senior center in the township municipal building. She said she sympathizes with those facing fee increases. Her rides are subsidized because she is 69.

“You can't get anywhere without an upcharge,” Flatley said. “This means the world to me. I don't drive, so I'd be home by myself during the day.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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