By Kris Smith
April 10, 2018
As the South County Huddle discussed what initiatives we wanted to pursue, we initially listed healthcare, food and transportation.
It turns out that both healthcare and food rely on transportation. South County is fortunate to have Owensville Primary Care, which takes patients without insurance and without the ability to pay. But, how will they get there? In fact, Owensville has an employee who spends a great deal of time looking for rides for patients.
Similarly, there are food banks, generally located at churches. Once again, how will they get there?
Carmen Skarlupka and I agreed to co-chair of the Transportation Committee. We first compiled a report of the available public transportation in South County (SoCo). Except for programs for the elderly and for adults who are disabled and a commuter bus that makes a few stops on the way from North Beach to Washington, D.C., there is no public transportation whatsoever between Edgewater and the Calvert County line, a distance of 26 miles.
As we looked into who needed transportation we found a number of populations:
- Citizens who are non-drivers (children, disabled, elderly, unlicensed); drivers who have a vehicle but are unable to drive (medical issue/suspended license); or who have one car in the family, and that car goes to work every day.
- Citizens who wish to utilize the many outreach services offered by churches in South County. More than 30 churches in South County offer services to the community, including food pan-tries, infant and pet emergency pantries, community dinners and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
- Citizens who require county and state services located only in Annapolis.
- Students accessing higher education programs at the community college.
- Citizens seeking employment who lack private transportation.
- Elderly citizens who wish to age in place. As eyesight fails and other ailments degrade the ability to be a safe driver, alternative modes of transportation should be available and easy to use.
- Patients trying to access medical and mental health care at Owensville Primary Care, South County’s non-profit medical center. One of their employees spends a great deal of time arranging transportation to/from the clinic. She has occasionally driven patients herself. The doctors also make house calls.
- Citizens requiring access to legal services, such as the courts, the Office of the Public Defender, the Parole and Probation Division and court-ordered services. For example, the typical court ordered substance use disorder treatment program requires daily medication dispensing, attendance at AA/NA meetings, and participation in the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). These require transportation every day. These citizens may have a revoked or suspended license; they rely on friends and family for rides. But, those people may have to go to work. Failure to appear can result in a bench warrant for arrest, resulting in jail. In the District Court alone, AA County’s Failure to Appear numbers are higher than Prince George’s County, Baltimore County, Montgomery County or even Baltimore City.
In December, we found out that the AA County Office of Transportation had been looking at bringing public transportation to South County. We met with the director. He said that, while he has a lot of data about South County, he doesn’t know the “story.” Where do they live? Where do they want to go? He asked us to provide that information. We did.
We conducted surveys of more than 50 homeowner and civic associations and more than 60 churches. We testified at a public hearing and a General Development Plan listening session. We met with many governmental officials and others who could help us understand ways that a public transportation system could help citizens.
Last week, we were excited to get our first look at the county’s plan for a bus loop that goes down into South County. It starts and ends at Annapolis Mall. In addition, we will have two demand-response, 6-8 passenger shuttle buses that go curb-to-curb and that can accommodate two wheelchairs. Someone can call to set a date and time for pickup. It will operate from 6 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. The introductory fare will be $1.00. We have named this service: SoCo GO!
Our role now is to gather additional data in an effort to enhance the program. We will also be involved in marketing the project. After all, it needs to be used if we want to keep it.
The new service, including the bus and the shuttles, will begin on or about July 1, 2018.