By Dawn Krebs
MARTIN COUNTY - At the May 21 county meeting, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners approved 4-1 to use federal funding to allow a local transportation provider to create and manage a volunteer transportation program.
"I think it's vital," said Commissioner Ed Fielding at the meeting. "I think it's admirable that we're moving in that direction, because it's going to relieve the daily worries of many people who don't have access to transportation."
His concern was the possibility of the project becoming a liability issue for the county and so was the "no" vote on the issue.
The funding, called New Freedom funds, is given to local governments by the Federal Transit Administration for the specific use to expand transit services to persons with disabilities. Martin County is eligible to receive more than $135,000 in funds towards the project.
Of that money, $70,000 is being awarded to Medical Transportation Management to oversee a volunteer transportation program in the county.
Currently, Medical Transportation Management is the community transportation coordinator for Martin County, helping low-income and disabled residents without transportation get to and from doctor appointments and other locations. In 2012, the group provided approximately 40,000 trips to Martin County residents.
With the grant money, the transportation group will train and certify community volunteers and use certified volunteer vehicles to coordinate the door-to-door transportation needs of Martin County residents, providing them transportation to meet their medical needs at no cost to them.
"MTM will also use their own call center services to match people up with the volunteer driver," said Don Donaldson, director of engineering for Martin County. "We think it's a good program to try to help those who are willing to provide help to other citizens."
While this program is using grant money from the New Freedom grant to set up the program, coordinators of the project hope the program is seen as a pilot project that can grow using community partnerships such as the United Way and other service agencies. In addition, MTM is also providing a match to the funds, raising the total of the monies used to start the program to $140,000.
The program initially begin by helping seven residents receiving dialysis that are currently on a transportation waiting list, as well as more than 35 Medicaid members and veterans using the current local transportation. The funds for the program are estimated to last three years.
The program is estimated to begin on July 1, and will operate Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of holidays.
"It's a project that has been in process for approximately two years," said Commissioner John Haddox. "It has the potential to make a very significant, positive impact on the transportation disadvantaged."