County approves senior vans |

County approves senior vans

by Robert Stern

Lake Tahoe seniors will be on the move.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with the city of South Lake Tahoe to create a transportation program for seniors and disabled persons. The proposal seeks to purchase two alternative fuel vans to accommodate persons in need of alternative forms of transportation. Marvin Weitzenhoffer of the Commission for Aging in El Dorado County said the vans would be a valuable asset to area seniors and disabled persons.

“(The vans) would have a major impact because right now many (seniors) don’t have the ability of transportation to take them from their homes off the hill,” Weitzenhoffer said. “We have very limited specialists on the hill as far as medical goes.”

While the vans will be used for essential reasons, such as doctor appointments, it will also provide homebound persons with greater freedom to participate in recreational activities.

“The important thing is to get the (seniors and disabled persons) some self-respect and the ability to live out of their own homes,” Weitzenhoffer said. ” We will bring them to events at the Senior Center. The priority will be the medical, of course, but we will accommodate shopping and so forth.”

The Trans-Sen proposal is only in its preliminary stages and will not be in operation until the Spring of 2002. Trans-Sen is applying to the Federal Transportation Agency for a grant to help pay the cost of the program. Receiving the grant is not a certainty. The FTA has allocated $7 million to the state of California through the California Department of Transportation. Trans-Sen must gain the approval of the Regional Transportation Planning Agency before they will have the FTA funds available to them.

“This application is actually a competitive grant, so it does take our approval,” said Assistant Transportation Planner Alfred Knotts of the Regional Transportation Planning Agency, “There is extensive documentation that you have to produce to show that you are eligible for the funds. What they need to do is show that there is no way as of now to use public transportation to the extent of their needs. You need to acquire 20 percent local matching funds and then (the FTA) will provide 80 percent of the remaining funds.”

The county’s Air Pollution Control Board has authorized $57,000 of county funds to match grant funds from the FTA for the purchase of the alternative fuel vans. The city will contribute $12,000 and will be responsible for maintenance costs. The city will also pay a $1,000 deductible on insurance and will provide workers’ compensation for volunteer drivers. The South Lake Tahoe Tahoe Senior Center will donate $5,000 annually to contribute toward fuel costs. Trans-Sen will not have to pay employee costs because the drivers will be volunteers.

“What makes this an extremely unique program is that the vans will be driven completely by volunteers,” Weitzenhoffer said. “The drivers will go through an extensive training program. They will get CPR training through the fire department and sensitivity training through the police department. It is just amazing the support we have got.”

-Tribune staff writer Timothy Bowman contributed to this story

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