Disabled, elderly upset by changes coming to rural transit program

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) More than one hundred people gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, to voice their concerns about changes to boundaries that determine who has access to the Rural Transportation Program.

“I can’t just take time off and take him to work, I have to go to work,” said one mother of a disabled child.

The program currently provides public transportation to people living west of 120th Street in Omaha, along with four other counties in Eastern Nebraska. But changes to the urban map, based on Census data, is going to push the boundary to 180th Street, cutting off everyone in between, as well as riders in Papillion, Gretna, and Bellevue.

"I'm legally blind and can't drive, so that leaves me with a big problem,” said 77-year-old Karen Walsh. There is a city service for disabled people, but it doesn’t reach to Walsh’s home in Millard.

She doesn’t know how she’s going to get to her doctor appointments.

"I have family, but like everyone else said they work and most of the people I know are older; they don't drive, so I don't know what I'm going to do,” said Walsh.

The Rural Transportation Program is a federally funded service provided through the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.

"We've always used the boundaries we had before, simply because public transportation doesn't go out past that,” said executive director, Dennis Loose.

But a representative from the Nebraska Department of Transportation said they don’t have a choice in whether or not to make the changes. "As Omaha's boundaries have continued to grow and the urbanized area has continued to grow,” said transportation manager, Keri Ruse. “It's no longer rural, so we can no longer use that funding for the urbanized area."

The change will impact about 90 percent of the program’s riders, which is equal to about 70 riders each week, not including those on a waiting list.

Ruse said the Department of Transportation is trying to work out a way to fund services for people who will be left behind come July 1 when the new boundaries go into effect.