New road for senior transport program

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There are some changes coming to how senior citizens travel back and forth to Riverdale Senior Services, but the head of the organization taking over transportation for the Netherland Avenue facility says there’s nothing to worry about.

Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council takes over those transportation services July 1, providing rides to places like doctor’s appointments, the store, and even cultural outings, as part of a new $1.4 million three-year grant from the city’s aging department. That shifts transportation responsibility from RSS itself, which had provided the service for 20 years.

Jeanette Puryear, the Mid-Bronx council executive director, told The Riverdale Press that she isn’t pitting the needs of seniors from other parts of the Bronx against local concerns. Julia Schwartz-Leeper, the RSS executive director, said last month Puryear relayed seniors outside of Riverdale were “needier.”

“There is no intention (or) desire, nor did we say that we would not serve her area,” Puryear said. “In fact, we said the opposite — that we were committed to serve as many people as we can.”

The grant, Puryear said, funds 28,500 rides annually — or nearly 110 per day on a typical Monday through Friday schedule — and would be shared equally among the eight community board regions Mid-Bronx serves. If shared equally, that would leave Riverdale Senior Services with 14 rides per day, significantly below the 38 rides provided last year.

That shortfall prompted Schwartz-Leeper to seek out supplemental funding through both additional grants and a fundraising gala recently she hopes will bring in another $100,000.

“Without transportation, we could not run our adult day program as the participants rely on transportation with our aides on the bus to assist,” Schwartz-Leeper told The Press in May. “This is why I am desperately trying to see where I can get at least short-term funding.”

Puryear did not respond to requests for comment in May, but did reach out to The Press after the initial story was published.

“I think it is very important to get the word out that Mid-Bronx is committed to providing service and meeting as much of the need as we can within the confines of the funding,” Puryear said.

Her office would allocate the rides on a first-come basis. Her drivers, Puryear added, are skilled at working with an elderly population, using four vehicles that seat up to 64 passengers — eight of which would accommodate seniors who use wheelchairs.

The city’s aging department awarded fewer grants this fiscal year, requiring contractors serve larger areas and more seniors.

The Mid-Bronx council would have a subcontractor on standby if needed, but planned to provide transportation services itself. Puryear wouldn’t say who that subcontractor was, adding she was still finalizing a deal.

RSS seniors will have a chance to experience the new transportation services in just a few weeks, and Puryear asked those seniors to just give it a chance.

Puryear hopes residents will not pre-judge the service. “We invite people to take the opportunity and use the transportation services,” she said.

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