Baldwin City Senior Wheels’ new van hits the road
Fifteen months after Baldwin City Senior Wheels hit the road, Bill Neuenswander is happy with the service it is providing community seniors.
“We started this to see what the community would support,” he said. “Who would have expected this quality this quickly?”
Neuenswander started organizing the service after sitting on a local task force exploring the availability of senior services in the community. The No. 1 need identified was senior transportation, Neuenswander said.
Senior Wheels stepped into that gap with the help of Douglas County Senior Services. The agency agreed to provide a used bus, insurance and its tag if the community provided volunteer drivers and the money to fuel and maintain the vehicle.
Also helping get the service started was a $1,500 contribution for Baldwin City and $2,500 raised at a downtown biscuits-and-gravy breakfast.
In the past 15 months, the service has evolved. Initially limited to trips in Baldwin City and to Lawrence, the service started offering rides to Ottawa late last year with the realization that many seniors went there for medical services. The service has also expanded from three days a week to operating as needed Monday through Friday.
The service dropped a fee schedule that asked riders to pay $10 for a ride to Lawrence. A suggested $3 per ride fee is now in place with riders providing what they can afford.
“That $10 to Lawrence was really difficult for people living on a fixed income,” Neuenswander said. “I still pass on $100 to $150 to senior services every two weeks.”
The most recent change is a new wheelchair-accessible Honda van, which replaced the hand-me-down short bus Douglas County Senior Services made available to the program when it started in June 2012.
When showing off the new van Friday, Neuenswander repeatedly used the word “slick” to describe the van’s racy silver exterior and leather-appointed interior. But his real admiration was reserved for the push-button controlled wheelchair ramp, which extends to street level with the opening of the van’s right rear sliding door. With the push of another button on the dashboard or electronic key, the van will tilt to the right to reduce the ramp’s incline.
The old bus had a wheelchair lift, too, Neuenswander and Senior Wheels’ volunteer driver Roger White said. But it was awkward to operate and, like the bus itself, mechanically temperamental.
“The way it secures wheelchairs inside works better, too,” White said. “The ones on the bus were difficult to use and it was hard to tell if you had the chair tightly secure.”
The van, which has about 50,000 miles on its odometer, was purchased with a $15,000 contribution from Baldwin City and $10,000 from Douglas County. Douglas County Senior Services provided the remaining money for the purchase with help from Senior Wheels.
A logbook Neuenswander retrieved from the front of the vehicle shows the new van has been used nearly every weekday since it was delivered to Senior Wheels on Oct. 13. The service shuttles seniors from their doorsteps to barber and beauty shops, medical appointments, shopping excursions and recreational outings.
One regular rider is Lorettamay Davis, who rides the van at least two times a week from her apartment in Hancuff Place to Neu Physical Therapy to receive arthritis hydrotherapy treatments.
“It’s wonderful,” Davis said of the new van. “It’s much easier to get into.”
White said he would like to see more seniors use the service.
“I’m disappointed more people don’t hop on to go shopping in Lawrence when we take people on medical appointments,” he said.
The service makes use of volunteer drivers such as White, who Neuenswander recruited. Neuenswander, a former superintendent of the Baldwin school district, also recruited his former district transportation supervisor Linda Russell to serve as dispatcher and part-time driver for the service.
The service needs one more volunteer driver, Neuenswander said. Those interested in volunteering or donating to the service should call him at 785-594-3559. Those looking to reserve rides should call Russell at 785-331-6101 or 785-594-3376.