For years, Danny Miner, a Tooele City resident and a disabled veteran, worried that his old car would break down on his way to doctors’ appointments in Salt Lake City.
These days his ride is more reliable — and the company is better, as well.
Miner is one of a growing number of elderly, disabled or low-income county residents who make use of the Tooele County Shuttle, a service intended to provide transportation to medical appointments, educational or occupational opportunities, or related necessities in Tooele and Salt Lake valleys.
The program has evolved from a small, grassroots effort to improve medical transportation for the elderly, into a fully functional nonprofit initiative with a dedicated professional director.
Marrium Croom, a member of the Tooele Civic League, said she first conceived the idea after watching one of her friends struggle to find a way to and from Salt Lake while going through cancer treatment. The friend was in no condition to drive, Croom said, but refused to ask for help from friends or family. Public transportation was likewise problematic.
“A person does not feel like standing on a corner if they’ve had chemo all day,” she said.
Croom kicked off the Civic League’s efforts to find grant money to fund a medical shuttle, and received money through the Veteran’s Association to purchase and modify a van that would be wheelchair accessible.
Additional grants provided funds for a computer, three years of fuel and van maintenance, and a salary for a program director — a position Cissy Morton filled in early 2013.
Since Morton came on board, the shuttle program has seen gradual ridership growth. In April 2013, the shuttle had about 110 riders. Last month, about 130 riders used the service. However, current riders and the volunteer drivers who man the shuttle, fear that without additional interest, creating a service that is sustainable in the long-term may prove difficult.
The uncertainty of grant funding — the bulk of which will run out in April if applications to renew the grants are denied — has riders and drivers alike concerned about the future of a program that provides an essential transportation service.
“You have no idea how many people would go without and maybe even die without this service,” said Kristi Foote, a disabled Grantsville resident who uses the service to get to her doctors.
Other riders attested to the difficulty of navigating bus transfers in Salt Lake with a wheelchair or walker, and one man said a disability affecting his memory made it difficult to follow a bus route without getting lost.
Additionally, those currently involved with the shuttle said they have forged strong bonds with one another.
“We don’t want this program to go away, because it benefits everyone,” said David Seely, a Tooele resident and a volunteer shuttle driver.
Miner, who started riding the shuttle because he was afraid his personal vehicle might break down, said he too appreciated making conversation with the shuttle’s volunteer drivers and other riders. For him, the service affords a rare opportunity for socialization.
“I live alone and my dog doesn’t talk back,” he said.
The best way to make the program sustainable, Morton said, is to find a way for the program to fund itself. To that end, the shuttle does ask riders for a $10 donation for a two-way trip into Salt Lake.
She also plans to reach out to local businesses and ask for donations to keep the shuttle running.
“The whole idea is to be self-funded,” said Morton. “We’ve got a good program. We need to be proud of where we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. But I’m not above asking or begging for money.”
The shuttle can provide transportation to most medical, educational, or occupation-related appointments for all Tooele and Rush valley residents at the price of $20 per round trip, as long as seating is available. Seniors, disabled or low-income individuals, and veterans — all of whom may ride the shuttle for free if they so choose — get top priority.