The St. John Dial-A-Ride board Tuesday agreed to suspend operation of the service Friday because it hasn’t received necessary government funding, St. John Community Foundation Director Celia Kalousek said Thursday. Dial-A-Ride on St. John is a St. John Community Foundation program.
“It’s horrible,” Kalousek said. Seniors who depend on Dial-A-Ride for transportation are headed Friday to the Legislature to plead their case, she added. The seniors want the senators to override Gov. John deJongh’s veto of a bill that appropriated $56,000 to keep the program operational until the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 31, Kalousek continued, and said that the senators approved the $56,000 appropriation on Dec. 15, 2011.
Dial-A-Ride also hasn’t received any of its $39,375 general fund appropriation allotted to the Dial-A-Ride program in November. Kalousek said this represents a 56 percent cut in what the program received last year.
The program currently has over $40,000 in expenses that haven’t been reimbursed by the government since September 2011.
“We’ve used our reserves to pay those bills, and the board said we can’t continue to do that,” Kalousek said.
St. John Administrator Leona Smith said the seniors depend on Dial-A-Ride to get them where they need to go.
“They need to get around,” she said, wondering who will pick up the slack left by Dial-A-Ride’s suspension.
There appears to be no alternative transportation for Dial-A-Ride’s passengers. Kalousek said in trying to organize the Friday trip to the Legislature building on St. Thomas, she learned that the Human Services bus has no horn and the windshield leaks, the bus used by the Human Services senior center at George Simmons Terrace has problems, and the VITRAN bus that is accessible to those in wheelchairs is already in use.
Dial-A-Ride has 172 clients. Kalousek said the program averages 250 rides a month for seniors, the disabled, and other special needs people.
The St. John Community Foundation has a 20-year history of running the Dial-A-Ride program with the support of the local government, United Way, donations from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, and other local support. The $2 fares received from the elderly and special needs clients who are able to pay also supports the program.
Kalousek said the demand for the services is high. She hopes the Human Services and VITRAN buses can fill the gap and not leave the seniors, the disabled, and individuals with special needs without vital transportation.