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Social service groups talk public transportation | News, Sports, Jobs

While there have been strides made in terms of improving public transportation in the Northern Panhandle, representatives from several governmental bodies and social service organizations told consultants Wednesday afternoon that there remain areas where it needs to get better.

Transport in rural areas and the southern part of the Northern Panhandle remain a problem, they said. So do having accessible stops on current transit routes and transport to emergency shelters, medical appointments and simply to the grocery store for people under age 60.

Those concerns will be taken under consideration by the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Public Transit, which hosted Thursday’s meeting at the Ohio County Public Library, as it begins the process of updating the Public Transit-Human Services Transportation Plan for the region.

That plan provides enhanced mobility in Region X – Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties – for people with disabilities and seniors. Among the organizations represented Thursday were The Health Plan, the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley, Aetna and Genesis Healthcare, among others.

During the meeting, Christy Campoll of Dayton-based RLS Associates, a transportation management consulting service, looked back at the last time the plan was updated in 2019. She reviewed some of the suggestions for improvement and noticed some headway had been made.

There had been improved communication between transportation providers and stakeholders in the form of a regional committee. The Ohio Valley Regional Transit Authority recently expanded services on a six-month trial basis. The organization added a route to the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Moundsville, as well as van transportation earlier in the morning and later in the evening for people who need to get to their jobs or job interviews.

“You know, I’m really impressed,” Campoll said. “Actually, there have been some expansions, some good communication going. This is really good.”

Campoll also asked the group where there are challenges, and several were mentioned. Paula Calvert, CEO of Family Services-Upper Ohio Valley offered the example of a 72-year-old client that lives in Pertroplus Towers in Wheeling.

“She called me in tears,” Calvert said.

That client will need to get to WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital and Kroger. She first had to walk from Pertroplus to the bus stop down the hill and ride several stops to the hospital for her appointment.

“If her appointment lasted just an hour, she was able to get the bus,” Calvert said. “If not, she would be at the hospital for two more hours.”

Her trip to Kroger is the same issue, Calvert continued. If her prescription was ready in an hour, she could catch the bus. If not, she’d be at Kroger for two more hours.

“To get back to Pertroplus, she’s start her journey at 9 a.m.,” Calvert said. “She’d get back at 3:30 p.m.”

Other examples included parents whose babies were housed in a NICU and couldn’t find transportation to visit them and patients at opioid treatment centers who couldn’t find transportation to get them to those centers at early hours for their dosing treatments.

There will be another meeting later in the process where the update to the plan will be finalized. That has not yet been scheduled.

Thursday’s attendees offered some preliminary suggestions – increased flexibility in being able to use public transportation and expanded services in Marshall County and south past McMechen.

Calvert said after the meeting that Thursday was a good start to the process.

“I think that anytime people get together and talk about issues, there’s always a moment where maybe a new idea that somebody hasn’t thought could work, it possibly can work,” she said. “And I think that’s the best part of getting together is having those moments and saying, yes, I’m struggling, this is what I’m doing as a solution, or this is how we can partner together.”

Melynda Sampson, the WV211 resource specialist for the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley, said the discussion and collaboration she saw and heard during Thursday’s meeting was heartening.

“Everybody’s trying to work together,” she said. “There’s still some progress needed, but everybody’s trying to work together and to find solutions to the problems and the gaps that we’re seeing for transportation throughout the three counties.”

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