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New requirements for senior volunteer driving program begins Jan. 1

WILLMAR — A change in a federal grant that helps fund the senior volunteer ride program in Kandiyohi County means some elders will pay a little more for those rides.

Starting Jan. 1 riders will be asked to make a contribution that’s based on their monthly income to reimburse the driver for actual mileage.

Currently riders are asked to make a donation.

There’s a difference between a contribution and a donation, said Tiffany Collins, director of Kandiyohi Area Transit.

Collins riders have been willingly donating to the program but the new rules will make the voluntary contributions a little more formal.

“We are expecting them to pay,” she said.

In order to accept the $31,000 annual federal Title III grant, KAT must ask for contributions that are based on the senior’s monthly income.

 KAT is in the process of contacting riders to get that information in order to calculate the sliding fee they’ll be expected to contribute for rides.

“We need to reach out to our customers and explain the changes,” she Collins, who told members of the KAT joint powers board Friday morning that she had been nervous about calling the seniors to ask them to divulge that personal financial information.

But she said the process has gone well so far and the response has been favorable.

That may be because the program is a very popular and much-needed.

“They are so appreciative of the program,” said Collins. “They all want to contribute something.”

Every year about 250 Kandiyohi County senior citizens, who are unable to drive and may be too frail to ride transit buses, get to medical appointments and grocery stores with the help of volunteer drivers, said Collins.

It’s estimated that 6,500 rides are provided every year by a pool of 25-30 volunteers who use their own vehicles and time to drive elderly residents to and from appointments.

Several drivers give 2-3 rides every day.

Money from the federal grant is used to reimburse drivers for gas at the current rate of 55½ cents per mile.

Collins said the grant covers about 85 percent of the mileage costs incurred by local volunteer drivers.

Donations from riders make up close to 15 percent of the mileage reimbursement costs but KAT funds are used to pay any remaining expenses.

Because of the new sliding fee scale, some riders may have to increase their contributions.

“There is an expectation that the users of the program would contribute based on the sliding fee scale,” said Collins.

Some riders will be expected to cover 100 percent of the cost of mileage for each ride, she said. Others will be expected to pay 50 percent or 10 percent or even zero, based on their income.

Starting next year quarterly statements will be sent to each rider summarizing the number of rides they took, miles they traveled and the cost of those miles.

People who haven’t filled a car with gas for 20 years may not be aware of how much gas costs now, said Collins. Seeing that in black and white could be an eye-opener.

Collins said in December KAT sees a lot of adult children of the elderly riders come to the office looking for Christmas gift ideas for their parents. She said KAT certificates can be purchased for the senior volunteer ride program, as well as other KAT services.

She said making sure elderly parents get safe transportation to their medical appointments can be the perfect Christmas gift.

Collins also told the board that KAT has received a one-year $25,000 grant that will be used to increase the frequency of city routes in Willmar and increase the number of times per week KAT buses will go to outside communities, like New London, Atwater and Pennock.

The grant will allow KAT to add eight hours of bus service each day for one year.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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