By Wendy Holdren
Many people say the transportation services offered by the Raleigh County Community Action Association are “the best-kept secrets in Beckley,” but Andy Austin, RCCAA transportation director, said he doesn’t want them to be a secret at all.
“We want to get the people who have no transportation first, but we also want to be there for anyone who can use it,” Austin said.
He said many people in Beckley don’t know that public transportation is available, and the few who do know believe the services are strictly for the elderly and disabled.
“We are very pleased with what we do, but we want to get the word out. We’re not just for elderly and handicapped residents.”
RCCAA operates four transportation programs: Raleigh Express Transit Routes, Dial-A-Ride, Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation for Medicaid Patients.
Raleigh Express is a transit system consisting of two city and two county shuttle routes for Beckley and Raleigh County residents.
Austin said there are “red” and “gold” routes, which run four times per day.
He also said the transit will deviate up to three-fourths of a mile from the route if given advanced notice.
County routes travel to Shady, Ghent and Daniels on Mondays and Wednesdays, and to Glen Daniel, Lester and Sophia on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All shuttle buses are ADA approved and transfers are made at Walmart.
Dial-A-Ride offers curb-to-curb transportation to the general public to doctor’s appointments, shopping, hospitals, etc. Transportation is provided by appointment only and buses are handicap-accessible.
JARC transports individuals to and from work, school and employment opportunities and training. Transportation is arranged by submitting a schedule in advance, and services are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Raleigh Express, Dial-A-Ride and JARC cost $2.50 for a one-way trip, $5 for a round trip and $2 for each additional stop (some exclusions apply).
The Non-Emergency Medical Transportation is available to Medicaid patients for their doctor’s appointments. Medicaid eligibility must be verified prior to out-of-town trips, which have limited availability and must be scheduled in advance.
Raleigh Express and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Dial-A-Ride operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and JARC operates Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Dispatch hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Austin has been a part of RCCAA since 1998, and has been serving as the transportation director since 2007.
Gas prices are always a struggle, Austin said, and RCCAA doesn’t even break even with the bus fares.
“It’s a difficult budget to balance.”
Some funding is provided for the transportation program through 2014 with a Community Service Block Grant, and Austin said he prides himself on maintaining the staff, equipment and buses.
“This service helps people maintain their self-sufficiency.”
He said without this vital service, many people would either have to enter retirement homes, or even move out of state to live with family.
Many people depend on the program for transportation to and from medical appointments, such as dialysis.
“We get a lot of snow here in Beckley, but with all the inclement weather, we’ve only had two days that we were not on the road in some capacity,” Austin said.
“Even during Superstorm Sandy we took people to their dialysis appointments.”
Austin also said safety is a No. 1 priority for RCCAA services.
“Safety is key. Drivers with a vehicle over a certain weight have to obtain a CDL (commercial license) and all drivers must receive a passenger endorsement.”
Other in-house trainings are available to provide the safest ride for Raleigh County residents.
“Our best asset is our guy behind the wheel. We also make sure our drivers have safe, clean vehicles.”
Drivers are encouraged to share their experiences with RCCAA and an agency-wide employee of the month is selected each month.
“We have good feedback and low turnover rates, so that tells me the drivers like what they’re doing.”
Austin said 12 drivers are on staff, along with three dispatchers.
“We have the best staff, bar none. I can’t say enough good things. They take pride in what they do.”
He spoke especially highly of Dee Spencer, who works as a dispatcher and makes the schedules, but also drives on occasion.
Spencer drove a school bus for five years, and has been working with the RCCAA for the past 11 years.
“I know all the routes and can answer your questions,” Spencer said.
“We get a lot of last-minute calls, especially for doctor’s appointments. If you know the appointment date and you need us to take you there, even if it’s two years in advance, go ahead and call us.”
Austin said many RCCAA programs are started after the executive director, Bobbi Bailey, hosts community needs assessments every three years.
“From housing to transportation, we try to cover whatever the community needs.”
RCCAA is a nonprofit organization that strives to “help people help themselves” and offers other services including Head Start, Action Auto Repair, Pine Haven Center and housing services.
For more information or to schedule transportation, call 304-252-6396.
RCCAA is also online at www.rccaa.org.
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