City And Senior's Group Still At Odds Over Senior Center Transportation
After seniors in Springfield, Massachusetts protested the cost of transportation to the city’s new $13 million senior center, city officials scrambled to come up with a plan.
As people sat down for lunch in the Raymond Jordan Senior Center Thursday, Mayor Domenic Sarno announced the city will begin providing free roundtrip van rides to the center from three neighborhood pickup points.
"You seniors are near and dear to my heart and I want more seniors to have access to this center," said Sarno.
The transportation plan came in response to protests from seniors, who have staged rallies in front of City Hall to demand “access and affordability.” In this election year, the rallies, organized by the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, have attracted candidates, including Sarno’s opponent Yolanda Cancel.
Senior activist Mattie Lacewell of Springfield reacted immediately after the mayor’s announcement.
"Its unacceptable," said Lacewell. "What we are asking for is door-to-door pickup."
Sarno said providing rides for seniors on 12-passenger vans operated by Springfield Partners for Community Action is a stopgap until the city puts into service a new 26-passenger bus that has been purchased for the Jordan Senior Center.
" I told the Mass Senior Action I appreciate thier efforts, but it is nice when you work together," said Sarno. " It takes a little while to put the plans together. I hope they are appreciative of it."
The Jordan Senior Center is served by two PVTA bus routes, but seniors complain the stops are not in residential areas. The paratransit service provided by the PVTA, which costs $6 for a roundtrip, is beyond the means of many.
" And to come here and have lunch that is a very expensive day for a low-income senior," said Tracey Carpenter, an organizer with the senior action council. She said Springfield should do what other cities have and subsidize the cost for its seniors to use public transportation to get to the senior center.
Until the Jordan Senior Center opened in February 2018, the city provided services, activities and meals to its senior residents at a patchwork of neighborhood locations. Resolving the transportation issue is vital to the continued success of the new center, said Springfield Elder Affairs Director Sandy Federico.
"Folks that are driving today may not be driving tomorrow, so we have to be mindful of that and plan today for tomorrow's eventuality," said Federico. " Seniors know what they want, they let you know what they want, and we have to be open-minded and willing to listen."
The Springfield City Council Health and Human Services Committee has scheduled a meeting Monday to discuss the senior center transportation issue.