A future service providing compassionate rides for thousands of elderly and disabled people continues to slowly wind its way toward reality in Stanislaus County.
Transportation leaders on Wednesday took the symbolic step of formally declaring that a "specialized transportation service" could be created to help such riders become more mobile.
The unanimous vote of Stanislaus Council of Governments policy board members opens the possibility of spending up to 5 percent of a funding source, or as much as $675,000, on a higher level of care for passengers with special needs.
Taxis and dial-a-ride serv- ices generally pick up peo- ple at the curb. A milestone study produced in May found greater demand for people needing help from inside their homes all the way through the doors of their destinations, called door-through-door service.
The assessment estimated 5,800 homebound people throughout the county might fall through the cracks 780,000 times a year.
Consultants in May talked about establishing a driving corps of volunteers who would be reimbursed, or creating a "mobility management office" referring callers to appropriate services. Most effective would be boosting awareness of existing buses and dial-a-ride, the study suggested.
The vote comes 22 months after senior advocates first demanded more transit options. Jenny Kenoyer of Golden Agers for Progress, who has followed the process patiently from the start, thanked leaders Tuesday.
StanCOG members got some bad news, however, with updated numbers on the funding source, which is based on sales tax. Local transportation funds are taking a beating in the down economy, and leaders had expected receipts to dip from $16.1 million last year to $15 million this year. But new estimates are more bleak, lowering expectations to $13.5 million.
Transportation staff will continue evaluating door-through-door programs elsewhere to formulate a recommendation for Stanislaus County. They favor a Shasta County service, which takes 5 percent from that county's local transportation fund and suggests $1.25 contributions from riders.
Also being studied is a Riverside County volunteer driver service, as well as programs in Sacramento and Santa Barbara.
At Tuesday's public hearing on unmet transit needs, Noe Paramo of Modesto urged leaders to consider farmworker van pools.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.