Seniors grappling with potential bus changes

Changes to the Oak Harbor Senior Center’s travel program are leaving people feeling confused and, in some cases, stranded.

Just over a month ago, the center began looking into options to address its aging bus used for member excursions, according to city Senior Services Administrator Liz Lange.

She said $100,000 would be needed to replace the bus, which includes a wheelchair lift.

As an alternative, the center has been working on “a trial basis” with Whidbey-SeaTac Shuttle to use its vans and buses for the travel program.

Not all of the shuttle company’s vehicles come equipped with an accessible lift, which has sparked concern from some of the members.

“I feel like I’m being discriminated against,” said Olivia Lockmiller, an Oak Harbor resident and frequent user of the senior center travel program.

She uses a walker and can’t go up the steps into a bus. She said the last time she inquired about signing up for a trip, she’d been told there was no guarantee the bus used would have a lift for her to use.

“Why should I sign up for something that I’m not going to be able to go on?” she said.

However, Lange said that if it’s arranged ahead of time, the center can provide an accessible vehicle.

Although Lockmiller said she’s never had to make special arrangements ahead of trips, Lange said the center’s travel policy has always encouraged people who need more assistance to register early.

Lockmiller and Karen Bess, who also uses the travel program, said the change wasn’t made clear. Suddenly, members noticed a different van was in use, and sometimes it didn’t have a lift.

“There’s been no communication from the senior center,” Bess said.

Bess said she also doesn’t know enough about the new vehicles to commit to taking longer trips in them.

This led her to cancel an excursion she’d signed up for in the summer.

“I’ve got arthritis and bad knees, and I can’t travel in something where I can’t move my legs,” Bess said.

Lockmiller said she feels as if she’s lost her sole means for leaving the island — one she’d been using for the past 10 years.

Lange said she understands why some are expressing concern.

“It is hard when something really large changes,” she said.

Especially for the population she serves, Lange said.

The partnership with the shuttle service isn’t set in stone, Lange said.

The center still owns the 2009 General Coach bus, and can use it at times. However, it’s getting toward the end of its life expectancy.

A decision is likely to be made about the travel program by the end of September, according to Lange.

“We’re just trying to figure out the best way to get people on trips,” she said.

Last year, the program had more than 1,200 sign up for 70 day and overnight trips, according to Lange.

The senior center outings are planned and led by volunteers.

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