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Penquis expands transportation services to those with disabilities

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Penquis Lynx bus driver Ronald Cote buckles Sandra Rocco of Bangor and her wheelchair in place after she used a chair lift to board the bus for her departure from Penquis in Bangor Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Thanks to a $222,331 Federal Transit Administration grant, Sandra Rocco and those like her with disabilities in the Bangor area will be able to be much more mobile.

The two-year grant allows the private, nonprofit Penquis agency to expand its Lynx transportation program, which provides services to people with disabilities who live more than three-quarters of a mile away from public bus routes in Bangor, Brewer, Old Town, Hampden, Orono and Veazie.

Representatives of Penquis, the Maine Department of Transportation, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Bangor, attended a press conference at the Penquis agency in Bangor on Tuesday morning to announce the grant funding and explain how it will be used for Americans With Disabilities Act travel services.

“We’ve been offering expanded service for two weeks now and the response has been tremendous,” said Marcia Larkin, director of Penquis’ community support department. “It allows us to reach areas and bridge the gaps not previously served by established bus routes and Penquis.”

The Lynx service already gets a lot of use, with an average of 1,100 one-way trips per day, according to Larkin. Lynx, which replaced Eastern Transportation in 1994, uses Penquis drivers as well as volunteer drivers using agency and personal cars and vans. The transportation service has been around in one form or another since 1984.

The fee for the service to individuals with disabilities living in the six municipalities is $2.50 one way and riders must notify Penquis two days before the desired date of service.

“Maine may be considered rural, but public transit plays a key role in economy and services, and this expands that role, especially in the Bangor area,” said Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt, who attended Tuesday’s event. “We help our transit providers in any way possible, whether it’s grant writing or managing things, so when they wanted to start something like this, we thought it was a great idea. We have an aging population and I think you’ll see public transit play a much bigger role in the future and continue growing.”

Rocco, a resident at Birch Hill Estates on outer Broadway in Bangor, is one of those older residents elated by the news of the Lynx service expansion.

“I was so glad because I was sitting at home with this good weather and couldn’t get anywhere,” said Rocco. “I had been able to get into my van and use that before, but I can’t get in it anymore because my arthritis got worse. Lately, I can hardly move around in my house, let alone get in the van.”

Rocco, who uses a wheelchair, was left with few alternatives.

“We live more than a mile from the bus routes, and taxis cost about $12 one way, which is an awful lot for me. And I can’t even get into a taxi anyway,” Rocco said.

The $2.50 fee for the Lynx service covers a single, one-way trip, regardless of mileage.

Rocco, who used a Lynx van to attend Tuesday’s press conference, said it’s already made a huge difference in her life.

“The first thing I did was visit my 91-year-old mother at the Maine Veterans’ Home,” she said. “She’s a World War II veteran. She used to visit me once a week, but she’s been getting worse and I haven’t been able to visit her so I was getting upset.”

“Now I can go out to the mall, and I’m even thinking about maybe trying to get a part-time job, which would have been very difficult before,” Rocco added.

Larkin said Lynx service is primarily available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, but allowances are made for users who need special services after hours or on Saturdays with enough advance notice.

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