Trips to medical appointments from $5 to $20
Not long ago, Lola Walker received a call from a woman who needed a ride to Charlottesville for a medical test. The caller wanted to avoid asking her daughter or granddaughter to take her because they would have had to take time off from work.
Ideally, Walker, the nutrition and volunteer services manager at Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services (RRCS), would have been able to line the woman up with a volunteer driver. But there were complications. She needed to be connected to an oxygen tank while walking. And she couldn’t walk very far, so the driver would have needed to track down a wheelchair once they got to the hospital — and the volunteer drivers are obligated only to drive, and aren’t expected (or trained) to provide extra caregiving services. So Walker wasn’t able to accommodate the patient’s request.
She’s hopeful, though, that soon that will no longer be the case. This summer, RRCS is planning to roll out a new service called RapiTran, which will provide rides in wheelchair-accessible minivans for a small fee in the event a volunteer driver can’t be arranged.
The fare will be $5 to go anywhere within the five-county region (Rappahannock, Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison and Orange) and $10 for roundtrip service to Charlottesville or Fredericksburg. The cost of a ride back and forth to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond will be $20. RapiTran will be available to any resident in RRCS’ service area over the age of 60, or anyone 18 or older with a disability. It will use on-call drivers paid $11 an hour to provide rides. Walker is now recruiting those drivers.
Transportation is an often underappreciated challenge for older residents in rural communities, where getting a medical test or procedure done requires a long drive, in many cases to another county. It can be particularly difficult in communities without public transportation, such as Rappahannock and Madison.
Walker pointed out that even many seniors who still drive would rather avoid driving long distances or in more congested cities, such as Charlottesville or Fredericksburg. And, taxis or ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft, are neither very available nor affordable.
She gave the example of a man who needed a ride from the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville back home to Orange County. It was a last minute request, so a taxi was called. Because it was a two-way trip for the taxi driver, the fare was $147.
The launch of RapiTran, which will be funded in part through a state senior transportation grant,
coincides with a spike in requests for volunteer drivers as seniors try to catch up with medical treatments put on hold during the COVID pandemic. In May, volunteer drivers for RRCS’ Care-A-Van program handled 40 trips. That’s double the number scheduled in March and triple the number of trips made last September.
“Everything just stopped much of last year,” Walker said. “Only a few volunteer drivers were available. Seniors didn’t want to go out, either.”
But now she expects the demand for rides to keep rising as the region’s population continues to age.
“The idea is to give us more capacity to help people not only to get to medical appointments, but also what we call critical errands,” said Ray Parks, RRCS’ director of aging and program support services. “Maybe someone needs to get to a grocery store and there just aren’t any other resources.”
“Our capacity is growing, and this new program will only help that,” he added. “It’s putting one more thing in our arsenal.” Rides are scheduled on a first-come/first served basis, and requests must be made at least four business days in advance.
To reserve a ride, call the Foothills Area Mobility System (FAMS) at (540) 829-5300.
By Randy Rieland — For Foothills Forum