The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Groups look at transportation assistance


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Sheila Berticevich, the owner of Seward Taxi and Tours LLC, holds the taxi door for passenger Charles Nicolet, who had been happily waiting for her in a slanted slush-storm.

Charles Nicolet lives on Grouse Creek Road, 7.5 miles outside of town. You may have seen this elderly gentleman, as he does quite a bit of sitting around on benches across town, watching folks go by, or waiting for taxis. His favorite is Seward Taxi and Tours LLC owned by Sheila Berticevich, the only taxi service in town qualified and insured to accept vouchers provided by the Independent Living Center's transportation program.

These days Nicolet, and at least 70 other qualified ILC clients receive 40 vouchers a month through the program. It cuts his personal travel costs in half, and a trip from home to town costs him only about $7. Each time the taxi makes a stop, whether it's for Berticevich to run into the post office to pick up his mail, or to drop him off at Safeway, another ILC voucher is used.

He couldn't do without the voucher program, Nicolet said. Several other residents unable to drive due to illness, disability or age, shared their stories and testified in favor of the voucher program, and a new coordinated transportation program at a recent Seward City Council meeting.

"Sheila's really great because she helps with our program, and helps old ladies carry groceries inside," said Seward's ILC Coordinator Melinda Maddox. The taxi company also works with clients from SeaView Community Services. All of her drivers are drug-tested, and she must meet all of the other Alaska Department of Transportation guidelines in order to participate in the state-funded voucher program. Berticevich is also certified with Medicaid, so her taxis can transport people to the hospital or medical-related appointments, but they aren't wheelchair accessible, so clients must be able to get in and out of the cabs on their own.

Currently there are 70 riders signed up for ILC taxi vouchers, but in the previous week alone, the ILC added another five people to the list, Maddox said. Of the total ridership, half are 65 years of age or older, and the other half are people between 35 and 60 with illness or disabilities that prevent them from driving,

During their intake interview to qualify for vouchers, Maddox also asks residents how ILC can further help them by providing other services such as assisted-living equipment such as large-print keyboards or walkers. "It gets them in the door," she said.

Providence-Alaska offers its own subsidized transportation voucher program, which helps lower the cost of transportation for clients who qualify. Those appointments such as physical therapy or those who need to get to and from the hospital can use the vouchers, but only when going to and from medical facilities.

The Seward Senior Center also has a wheelchair-accessible van for people 60 and over, and Glacier View housing residents. It runs five days a week, bringing folks to places they need to go. The van's priorities are medical appointments, grocery shopping, post office and banking, said Senior Center Director Dana Paperman. The van is also used for the Meals on Wheels program which delivers hot meals to shut-ins.

About 30 different riders use the van, totaling about 5,000 one-way rides per year, Paperman said. The center has thus far raised $14,000 in donations for a replacement van, toward the $55,000 cost. The center is applying for Alaska Department of Transportation and Rasmuson Foundation grants for the remainder.

A committee of individuals from all of the various organizations with clients who need accessible or affordable forms of transportation meets monthly to work out a better, more coordinated transportation program for Seward, said Paperman, who leads the group. The funding sources they currently rely upon are indicating that they will support coordinated transportation programs in communities by 2015, rather than doing it piecemeal, she said. A new coordinated program would involve sharing the existing means of transportation while partnering with willing private enterprise in the community to continue to meet the needs of all organizations.

Details are yet to be worked out, but SeaView Community Services has received DOT funding to purchase two new ADA (accessible) vehicles in which to transport its clients, Paperman said. Those vans, along with private-sector taxi cabs or buses all could eventually play a part in a coordinated transportation program for Seward.

Several people who can't get around well due to their age or physical ability also testified at the Jan. 13 council meeting in favor of the city approving a $87,000 competitive contract with Harmon Construction to create ADA-accessible curb cuts and make other improvements to some of the high-traffic sidewalks downtown. When icy, snow-covered or damaged sidewalks present hazards, or aren't navigable on wheelchairs, they have to travel on the streets, they said. The council approved the contract.


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