Board OKs funding for monthly rides
Seniors in the Methow Valley will still be able to get to Wenatchee by bus, following a decision by the Methow Valley Senior Center board to charter a bus after the nonprofit that formerly provided monthly service discontinued the trips.
Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition (OCTN), the nonprofit that provides meals and bus service to seniors, notified the Methow Valley Senior Citizen Association at the beginning of April that they would no longer provide bus trips from Twisp to Wenatchee once a month.
Seniors would have had to take a TranGO bus to Okanogan and then transfer to an OCTN bus to Wenatchee, then do the same on the way home, association president Judy Tonseth said.
The board felt strongly that that arrangement was not viable, Tonseth said. “It’s just unacceptable. We treasure and honor our seniors. To have that removed, it just was not acceptable,” she said.
The board was also concerned about safety, since people would have had to make connections in the dark during the winter, Tonseth said.
The association will pay for the bus, fuel, wear and tear, and driver John Jumper’s wages for the day. Tonseth estimated the bus trips will cost the association about $400 per month, but the board voted to charter the bus even before they knew the cost. Their mission is to support the seniors, and everyone felt the bus service is a key part of that, she said.
Jumper drives the door-to-door bus services for seniors in the Methow three times a week, taking people to lunch at the senior center and to do errands. He would have lost the income for the Wenatchee trips, Tonseth said.
Funds to support the bus service will come from sales at the senior center’s thrift store, Tonseth said.
Medical appointments, social outings
People were encouraged to schedule medical appointments for the third Tuesday of the month, the day the bus goes to Wenatchee, and those appointments often have to be booked months in advance. “We weren’t notified it might be changing till it changed — people were upset,” Tonseth said.
Half a dozen people typically take the bus to Wenatchee, which seats 12. They can request stops for shopping, appointments or a social activity, and be picked up a couple of hours later, Tonseth said.
The bus is a lifeline for many people. Karen Williams took the bus regularly this winter as a convenient, safe way to get out of the valley and combat cabin fever. She appreciated being able to take the trip without having to drive in winter conditions. She did shopping, went out to lunch and just enjoyed the change of scenery. “OCTN doesn’t think about people’s mental health,” Williams said.
The bus is the only transportation some people have, Tonseth said. “We worked out a solution that benefits our seniors, and that’s part of our mission,” she said.
The association and some seniors met last week with OCTN and Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington, which provides services to help seniors remain independent and safe in their home. Representatives from Methow At Home, a local group that helps people live independently, also attended. OCTN said they would reassess the situation in the future, Tonseth said.
OCTN also provides lunch at the senior center and by delivery to people who are home-bound on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Lunch and transportation within the Methow will continue.
OCTN receives grants from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to provide rural bus service throughout Okanogan County. The grants cover commuter routes as well as door-to-door transportation for seniors and people with special needs. For the four years through the end of this June, the department provided almost $1.9 million, plus $287,000 to replace four buses.
WSDOT is currently reviewing grant applications for upcoming years. Although details aren’t available during the grant-review process, OCTN has applied for similar funding, WSDOT Public Transportation Division Grants Supervisor Evan Olsen said.
OCTN also provides bus service for seniors in Brewster, Omak/Okanogan, Oroville and Tonasket. The organization is offering weekly trips from Okanogan to Wenatchee for a suggested donation of $8 for seniors and $16 for the general public.
OCTN’s executive director did not respond to calls or emails about the changes to bus service.
Book in advance
The Wenatchee trips will still be on the third Tuesday of each month. Anyone 18 or over can book a seat on the bus. The fare will be $10 for seniors and $15 for people under 60.
There is a minimum of four people per trip, or two with medical appointments.
People need to reserve a seat on the bus at least 24 hours in advance through the senior center (call 997-7722). The bus leaves from the Senior Center parking lot in Twisp at 8 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month and returns around 5:30 p.m