Franklin County public transit must do better for our senior citizens

This is an open letter to members of the Franklin County Legislature, Franklin County Public Transportation, Office of the Aging, Harrietstown Town Council and the Saranac Lake Village Board, as well as anyone interested in helping senior citizens.

It is quite disturbing that many older adults in our area go hungry and/or lack social contacts when they can get a hot, nutritious and great tasting meal — as well as meet their friends and other seniors — at the Saranac Lake Adult Center Monday through Friday at noon. Yes, there are quite a few seniors who receive home-delivered meals (meals-on-wheels). However, there are many more who would like to go to the Adult Center not only for the meal but also for socialization and activities such as mahjong, chess, Wii bowling, pinochle, other card games, etc. Too many lack transportation. Why don’t they take the Franklin County Public Transportation bus? The answer is simple: Economics. Let’s do the math.

The bus costs seniors $2 one way. That’s $4 round trip, so going to the adult center Monday through Friday would cost $20 round trip for one week, or approximately $80 for one month (four weeks), or $1,040 for the year (52 weeks). That is too much money for most seniors living on a limited income, typically just their meager Social Security check.

On top of the transportation cost, the suggested donated price of the noon meal at the adult center is $2/senior. However, no one is turned away if they are unable to donate the $2/meal. All are welcome. As we know, people do want to pay their own way as a matter of personal dignity and honor. This adds another $10/week, $40/mo, or $520/year. Now the total cost of getting to the adult center for lunch and social activities has mounted up to $30/week, $120/month, or $1,560/year. Now consider a couple doing this, the cost becomes $60/week, $240/month, or $3,120/year. Wow!

How can the agencies and departments mentioned at the opening of this letter help? They can work together to figure out how to get seniors to and from the adult center for lunch. To me, an appropriate option includes having the Franklin County Transportation bus routinely pick up seniors at two or three spots in and around Saranac Lake. For starters, at the DeChantal senior apartment building and the Lake Flower apartments. Pick up time could be at or near 11 a.m. to take people to the adult center. After lunch people could be picked up at 1 p.m. to return to DeChantal and Lake Flower, and perhaps again later in the afternoon for those who stay to engage in activities. The only stops would be the two apartment buildings and the adult center — no side trips to drug stores or grocery stores, etc. Those trips would be up to individuals to schedule.

Who would pay for this service? If only one person from each location goes to the adult center for lunch, Franklin County Transportation would get $8 for round-trip. If the bus picks up more people for the same trip then they do get more money. Perhaps the Franklin County Legislature can grant $2,086 to Franklin County Transportation, that’s $8 for two people, round trip, times five days per week, times 52 weeks per year. Both the Saranac Lake Village Board and Harrietstown Town Council could also grant $2,086 each. With this, these agencies will have agreed to pay for a total of six people from DeChantal and Lake Flower apartments to get to and from the adult center. If more than six people want to ride, no problem, Franklin County Transportation would allow for additional passengers as the bus is already going that way, and there are seats available. This arrangement could be made for 12 consecutive calendar months and renegotiated, based on its success and ridership.

This would benefit the people (voting constituents) of Saranac Lake, Harrietstown and Franklin County greatly. As more people become familiar with the bus, ridership would increase, benefiting Franklin County Public Transportation. All too often the bus has only one passenger, and I have been that one passenger. Franklin County Office of the Aging would be able to connect with more seniors, helping them to navigate the wide array of services they provide as well as directing them to ancillary agencies and departments.

It is time that we stopped talking about helping seniors and do something about it. Here’s a plan that I think will work. If you want to find roadblocks to doing something you will, and if you want to find a way to make it work you will. Do the right thing, let’s make it work.

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Susan Steen is a resident of Saranac Lake.


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