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At Issue: Transportation Concerns - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Transportation Concerns

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Starting Saturday, some of Vermont's most vulnerable citizens are going to need a new ride as Benways cab company shuts its doors.

"A lot of them would be seniors, people with disabilities, some younger people who happen to be on Medicaid as well," says Champlain Valley Agency on Aging Executive Director John Barbour.

Barbour says he's concerned for many of the people his agency serves. The state has an obligation to make sure that people on Medicaid who need rides to medical services get there. Right now, Benways provides hundreds of these rides.

But Barbour says most cab companies haven't gone through the extra steps -- like insurance, liability, and background checks -- to be Medicaid-approved to transport patients. He's wondering what will happen now.

"One way or another it has to be done, but that doesn't mean that there are not going to be some glitches and inconvenience and maybe some missed appointments along the way," he says.

The Special Services Transportation Agency, or SSTA, contracts with companies like Benways to meet the customers' needs. Barbour says SSTA is in talks with CCTA to see if they can increase the availability of vehicles to try to meet those needs. But he says that isn't resolved yet, leaving many of the Medicaid passengers now in limbo.

"So it's very expensive, and there are not a lot of people who can afford to pay that cost out of pocket. If you're on Medicaid, Medicaid pays the full cost," he explains.

There's a chance that down the line some of them could be picked up by private contractors, like Big Brother Security Programs. Two weeks ago, their wheelchair transportation vans were just an idea. Friday, they picked up their first passenger at Fletcher Allen.

CEO Shelley Palmer says initially, they are not going to be focusing on the Medicaid passengers, instead contracting with others left in a lurch with this closure, like schools with special needs kids, nursing homes, or private individuals and companies who set up contracts.

"There's a lot of people who require that kind of service. We have experience in that kind of service, so we're going to hit the ground running," he says.

His business is different from a traditional cab company, which is required to pick up anyone. He says because they aren't classfied as a taxi service, insurance costs are lower. Which makes investing easier.

"This is state of the art stuff. We're getting better than twice the gas mileage of the closest competition. It's five-star-rated. It's safe, it's quiet," he says.

And there will be familiar faces. Palmer says many Benways drivers who have worked with these people will be signing on with his team and likely bringing some customers as well. Already, their seven vans have a full schedule set for Monday.

So what are the options for elderly or disabled people who may have been using Benways before? CVAA lists a few:

CCTA buses: Rides are 60 cents for seniors, and if you qualify for ADA help, they can provide door-to-door paratransit service through the SSTA, but you have to live within three quarters of a mile of a fixed route.

SSTA: This private nonprofit group can also help people on Medicaid who do not have a car and need to get to medical appointments.

E&D rides: These are services for elderly and disabled people 60 or over, and it varies from town to town. This is provided by CVAA and other groups.

Neighbor Rides, a program where volunteers drive seniors and people with disabilities where they need to go.

If you want to help out with Neighbor Rides, you have to have a safe record and a background check. But Barbour says it's a great opportunity to meet someone new from your town.

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