Topic:
ELDERLY; HANDICAPPED; TRANSPORTATION (GENERAL);
Location:
ELDERLY; HANDICAPPED; TRANSPORTATION;

OLR Research Report


October 25, 2002

 

2002-R-0880

TRANSIT DISTRICTS AND ELDERLY AND DISABLED TRANSPORTATION IN EASTERN CONNECTICUT

 

By: Helga Niesz, Principal Analyst

You asked (1) how many transit districts there are in Connecticut and in eastern Connecticut; (2) what kind of transportation services are available in eastern Connecticut for seniors and disabled people; (3) where the services go, and (4) whether there is a restriction on their going across town lines. You also want to know what the Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) has available or planned for money for vans for towns for elderly or disabled dial-a-ride services and how municipalities can access these funds.

SUMMARY

Connecticut has 18 transit districts (only 15 are active). Four are in eastern Connecticut. Towns have the option of joining together to form transit districts to provide their citizens with public transportation.

People in eastern Connecticut have access to general public fixed-route bus service (although there is less access to these in rural areas) and rail service. Transit districts also provide federally required paratransit service (which the state subsidizes) for disabled people, including the elderly, who live near fixed bus routes but cannot ride the public buses, as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In some rural areas that do not have fixed route service, the transit districts also provide on-demand dial-a-ride service to the general public. In addition, towns and senior centers or other nonprofit entities provide some type of dial-a-ride service for seniors and disabled people. For people on Medicaid who have no other means of transportation, the Department of Social Services (DSS) provides nonemergency medical transportation to doctor appointments throughout the state.

The transit district services usually cover the participating towns in the district. Municipal or nonprofit dial-a-ride services set their own rules as to where they offer services. State law does not appear to restrict any of these services from going across town lines; in fact, services run by transit districts routinely do so within their districts. But if they are going to go outside the transit district and charge a fare, they may need to become licensed as a motor carrier by ConnDOT.

ConnDOT expects to have about $1 million for federal FY 2002-03 under the federal Section 5310 program, which ConnDOT administers, to help towns and nonprofit organizations buy or replace vans specifically for elderly or disabled dial-a-ride. Federal Section 5307 and 5311 programs can also fund the purchase and replacement of vehicles for ADA paratransit, but this funding is not specifically for the elderly and disabled.

TRANSIT DISTRICTS

There are 18 transit districts in the state, but apparently only 15 of them are active. Eastern Connecticut contains four transit districts:

1. Southeast Area Transit District (SEAT) (Norwich, East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Lisbon, Montville, New London, Preston, Stonington, and Waterford);

2. Northeastern Connecticut Transit District (Brooklyn, Canterbury Eastford, Killingly, Plainfield, Pomfret, Putnam, Sterling, Thompson, and Woodstock);

3. Windham Transit District (Ashford, Chaplin, Columbia, Coventry, Hampton, Lebanon, Mansfield, Scotland, Willington, and Windham; and

4. Estuary Transit District (Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Killingworth, Lyme, Madison, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook).

A transit district is a governmental entity authorized by a state law (Chapter 103a) that gives regional transportation organizations broad powers to acquire, operate, and finance land transportation. The transit districts can operate their own services or contract with a private operator to provide services. Most transit districts also serve as the local agency that receives federal, state, and local funds, but where there are no active transit districts, regional planning agencies can also serve this function. Municipalities can participate in transit districts, but they are not required to. Districts may be formed by either single municipalities or groups of municipalities.

TRANSPORTATION SERVICES AVAILABLE TO SENIORS AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN EASTERN CONNECTICUT

Seniors and people with disabilities in eastern Connecticut have access to the same modes of transportation as the general public (fixed route public buses, for half fare, which are now fitted with wheelchair lifts or have low floors to make them physically accessible), railways, and private taxicabs, to the extent they are able to use them. Rail services also have “key stations” that are accessible to people with disabilities.

Those seniors and disabled people who cannot use these modes of transportation may have access to dial-a-ride programs sponsored by their town or senior center or to dial-a-ride programs sponsored by their transit district under the federal ADA paratransit program. In some cases, dial-a-ride programs may also serve the general public (including seniors and disabled people) in rural areas where there are no public buses.

“Dial-a-ride” is an informal term that covers a variety of services by various towns, nonprofit agencies, senior centers, and regional transit districts serving several towns. Some programs serve the elderly only; others serve the handicapped, including elderly people who are handicapped. They usually provide door-to-door or curb-to-curb transportation for medical appointments, shopping, or other social purposes for a small fee or requested donation and require at least 24 hours advance notice. These services are supported by a mix of federal, state, and municipal funds.

ADA Paratransit Services (Handicapped Access Program)

The existing state Handicapped Access Program mainly serves disabled people, but many elderly can qualify. The state uses this program to meet requirements under the ADA. It is part of ADA paratransit services and is limited to those who cannot ride buses or get to bus stops. The ADA requires every entity receiving public funds for fixed-route bus transit to offer equivalent (“complementary”) paratransit services to ADA-eligible people in the service area and during the service hours of the fixed-route operation. The services must, at a minimum, be provided to people with qualifying disabilities whose travel origins and destinations are within of a mile of the fixed route services. The transit districts provide these paratransit services either through accessible buses or dial-a-ride. To use ADA paratransit, individuals must be certified as disabled according to federal law. The state subsidizes the operating costs for these services through its Handicapped Access Program. The state budget for FY 2002-03 contains about $8.2 million for the Handicapped Access Program and another $2.5 million for “dial-a-ride”, which also goes to ADA paratransit. The legislature first appropriated the extra $2.5 million in 1998 to make up for federal elimination of funding for operating expenses in large urban areas and has kept this appropriation level each year since then (the money goes to Greater Bridgeport, Greater Hartford, Greater New Haven, Middletown, and Milford transit districts).

Towns and Volunteer Organizations- Older Americans Act

Some towns fully or partially fund their own programs for senior and disabled transportation. Some senior centers also conduct these programs, drawing on funding from several sources, such as town funding, donations, or various state and federal transportation funds. They also use federal Older Americans Act Title IIIb money funneled through the Department of Social Services, which makes grants to the five Area Agencies on Aging, which then decide how to distribute it.

Other Transportation Services for DSS Clients with Special Needs

DSS provides transportation specifically to and from doctor appointments for Medicaid patients, including the elderly and disabled. Also, some of the state and federal disabled access money goes to special programs for disabled or mentally retarded clients.

TRANSPORTATION ACCESS AND ROUTES IN EASTERN CONNECTICUT

The fixed route and paratransit services in the four transit districts in eastern Connecticut are summarized below. Additional information and contacts for the districts are available at: http://www.ctrides.com/explore/regionalBus.htm

We have also attached:

1. a chart from the 2001 Master Transportation Plan that shows fixed local bus routes throughout the state and

2. two charts listing and describing further the transit district ADA services and other town, senior center, and nonprofit dial-a-ride services in the region, which were provided to us by Mary Hogan at Infoline of the United Way.

Southeast Area Transit District (SEAT)

Fixed route service is provided Monday through Saturday over 19 routes to nine towns, including Norwich, New London, Groton, Waterford, East Lyme, Griswold, Montville, Ledyard, and Stonington. One bus operates on Sunday between the New London train station, Mystic, and the Foxwoods Resort.

SEAT provides complementary ADA paratransit service through the Eastern Connecticut Transportation Consortium (We are enclosing a copy of that organization's brochure, which provides details on their services, and a map of their estimated ADA service area).

Northeastern Connecticut Transit District


The Northeast district provides fixed route service through routes in Brooklyn, Killingly, Putnam, and Thompson. Bus service operates Monday through Friday, between approximately 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The district provides flexible routes, namely, a fixed-route service that will deviate off-route to pick up or drop off a rider on request. These services apparently meet the needs of people with disabilities and therefore the district is not required to have complementary ADA paratransit.

There are no commercial inter-town bus lines. Bonanza, a bus company with a route through the area from Providence to New York City stops for local passengers. Pomfret Livery and Community Cab provides taxi service within the region.

Windham Region Transit District

The district operates fixed route rural bus service in Mansfield and Windham Monday through Saturday, and demand-response service in Ashford, Chaplin, Columbia, Coventry, Hampton, Lebanon, Mansfield,

Scotland, Willington, and Windham. It provides rural fixed route service and ADA complementary paratransit to those routes throughout 10 towns as well as demand responsive service.

Estuary Transit District

The Estuary Transit District serves Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook. The district provides four distinct services for the area: tri-town flexible route, demand response demand-response service three days a week for their member towns, medical outpatient service, and the Shoreline Shuttle, a fixed schedule service that operates between Old Saybrook and Madison, but will deviate off-route on request. Therefore, complementary ADA paratransit is not required.

Federal Section 5310 Funding for Vehicles

Section 5310 is a federal program administered by ConnDOT that makes grants to nonprofit agencies and municipalities to purchase vehicles to provide service to seniors and people with disabilities.

In eastern Connecticut, the following groups have received vans under the program, according to Lisa Rivers, a transportation planner at ConnDOT:

1. Arc of Quinebaug Valley in Putnam supplies transportation to Killingly, Putnam, Brooklyn, Plainfield, Woodstock, Thompson, Eastford, Pomfret, Chaplin, Hampton, Scotland, Sterling, and Canterbury;

2. Eastern CT Transportation Consortium in New London supplies transportation to Bozrah, Lebanon, Salem and Franklin;

3. Estuary Council of Senior, Inc. in Old Saybrook supplies transportation to Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook;

4. Middlesex Chapter - Red Cross in Middletown supplies transportation to Middletown, Durham, East Hampton, Middlefield, Portland, Chester, Deep River, Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Essex;

5. East Haddam supplies transportation to East Haddam and Moodus;

6. Portland supplies transportation to Portland and Middletown; and

7. St. Joseph's Living Center - Adult Day Care Center in Columbia supplies transportation to Columbia, Coventry, Windham, Lebanon, and Mansfield.

ROUTE RESTRICTIONS

ConnDOT does not place restrictions on out of town transportation by senior/disabled service providers, according to Rivers. Under the Section 5310 program, applicants indicate what towns they wish to serve. ConnDOT requires Section 5310 program recipients to make every effort possible to coordinate with other local providers of transportation services in order to enhance opportunities for private sector participation and to consolidate paratransit services in their areas, according to Rivers.

As noted above, ADA complementary paratransit is limited to the mile distance from fixed-route bus services. This is the minimum required under ADA. The reason that service is restricted to the minimum requirement is due to funding constraints, not law, according to Rivers. While ConnDOT does not restrict out of town travel, it appears that problems can arise when a transit provider begins to charge fares or when a transit district travels outside of its district boundary. The transit district would apparently need to obtain motor carrier authority from ConnDOT to travel outside the district if it collects fares on the service. A non-profit or municipal transportation provider that begins to charge fares would need to obtain motor bus or other special vehicle registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles and would need to obtain additional authority from ConnDOT. There could also be insurance issues.

CONNDOT FUNDING FOR VANS FOR TOWN ELDERLY OR DISABLED DIAL-A-RIDE

Section 5310 Program

ConnDOT expects to have some funding available specifically for vans for town or nonprofit elderly or disabled dial-a-ride programs through the Section 5310 program described above. About $1 million in federal funding will likely be available once the federal FY 2002-03 budget is adopted, according to Rivers. (The federal fiscal year starts in October, but Congress has delayed adopting a budget.) ConnDOT has not yet

determined the amount of the individual Section 5310 grants, but will do so shortly. A good portion of the grants go to replacing vehicles in existing programs.

Accessing 5310 Funding

All applicants, including municipalities, must work through their regional planning organization to apply for the funds. It is a competitive process. The annual project solicitation goes out each fall; this year's solicitation will be issued early in November. The deadline for submitting proposals is January. For eastern Connecticut, the regional planning agencies are Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency, Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and Windham Regional Council of Governments (there are 15 in the state).

The federal funds cover 80% of the cost of the vehicle, but only up to $35,000; the state must provide a 20% match. Any excess purchase cost above the $35,000 is the responsibility of the agency or municipality, as are all operating expenses. In federal FY 2001-02 each private nonprofit organization and municipality that was awarded a Section 5310 grant received $35,000 towards the purchase of a new van or small bus. There were 27 recipients statewide in federal FY 2001-02. The federal share was $756,000 and the state share was $189,000 for a total program of $945,000. There were five recipients in the eastern Connecticut region. One of the selected agencies decided not to accept the grant. ConnDOT will put that money back into the program for the upcoming federal fiscal year.

Other Federal Funding

Other federal programs administered by ConnDOT also provide funding for transportation-related capital expenditures (such as replacement of fixed-route public buses), but these are not aimed specifically at elderly and disabled services. The Section 5307 program funds only capital expenditures in large urban areas with populations over 200,000 and capital and operating expenses in towns with populations between 50,000 and 200,000. Transit districts can use some of these funds to purchase and replace ADA paratransit vehicles. The Section 5311 program provides funding for transportation (both capital and operating expenses) in rural areas. Some transit districts use these funds for flexible bus routes or for paratransit that is open to the general public.

State Municipal Grant Program Not Implemented for Lack of Funding

1999 state legislation required ConnDOT to start a program to give grants for vans for dial-a-ride specifically to towns, but since the state did not appropriate any funds for the program, it has not been implemented. OLR Report 2002-R-0872 provides more details on the legislation (CGS Sec. 13b-38bb).

Attachments:

1. Fixed Local Bus Routes Statewide (Figure III-D3, 2001 State Master Transportation Plan)

2. Community Ride Programs, Senior Ride Programs, Disability Ride Programs List – Eastern Connecticut (from Infoline)

3. Listing, Routes, and Other Info on Dial-a-Ride programs in Eastern Connecticut (from Infoline)

4. Eastern Connecticut Transportation Consortium Brochure (with map of routes)

HN:ro