PENDLETON - The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program transportation program, better known as Dial-a-Ride, has expanded to include two buses.

The CAPECO agency has always had a volunteer transportation program to take senior and low-income people to medical and dental appointments. That program continues with more than 50 people using their own vehicles to convey seniors to their appointments.

"I still saw a need for transportation in the greater Pendleton area," said Scot Jacobson, director of RSVP. "The same people need to buy groceries and to go out to do fun things. It's a need that seniors themselves identified, an alternative to driving at night or driving long distances."

Jacobson hunted and scraped together funds to purchase a surplus 15-passenger bus from Community Connections, the Community Action Program in Union County. The bus allowed the transportation program to expand, allowing transportation for shopping and social engagements beginning in September 2002.

Because there was still more demand for services RSVP purchased a second bus in March, a surplus bus from Morrow County that can carry 15-passengers and two wheel chairs.

The Dial-a-Ride service is primarily for senior citizens and the disabled, but a second emphasis includes low-income people and those without or with limited transportation options.

There are no application forms or required paperwork to ride the bus, Jacobson said. Those wanting to arrange a ride need to call 24 to 48 hours beforehand so the transportation coordinator can line up a volunteer driver or one of the shuttle buses. The RSVP phone number is 278-5669 or (800) 752-1139, ext. 111.

There is no charge for a ride, Jacobson said, but donations are accepted.

"We don't want anyone to feel like they can't call for a ride if they cannot afford to make a donation," he said. "The service is used primarily by seniors who are no longer comfortable driving. It helps them remain independent."

Most people donate $1 per ride. The normal bus operating hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but if a driver is available, they will do rides on weekends. The coverage area is Pendleton, Rieth, Adams and the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Drivers who use their own vehicles to transport people are reimbursed for their mileage through the Special Transportation Funds each county receives from the state.

The program operates on a shoestring budget, Jacobson said. It receives donations from United Way, Wild Horse Foundations, the Oregon Association of RSVP directors and the public.

The bus is also available for hire with at least a week's notice. Thus far, buses have been hired for trips to the Tri-Cities, Whitman Mission, Battle Mountain State Park and Wildhorse Casino. The charge depends on the destination and activity.

RSVP is always recruiting volunteers, Jacobson said. It has placed more than 800 volunteers at 100 volunteer sites in four counties. To volunteer, call the office at 278-5669 and ask for a volunteer application form.

Sandy Holtz can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-225) or by e-mail at sholtz@eastoregonian.com.

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