FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County is launching a pilot program that would augment transportation services to its underserved population.

The $100,000 program would run for one year and would target that segment of the local population who either cannot drive or who should not drive.

At an Aug. 20 work session, Director of Fleet Management Avery Gravitt told county commissioners that the county’s current transport services for the needy are not enough to serve everyone.

The county’s Dial-a-Ride program administered through his department, he said, offers $2 trips to those who qualify for the service. Last year, while the service provided 27,000 passenger trips, there were still 2,700 trips denied, including those for medical visits.

Senior Services provided 14,678 trips in 2018. Still, the department recorded more than 150 cases where it was unable transport a client.

The pilot program would fund a partnership with an Uber-like transportation service that would offer low-fee transportation to qualified residents. 

Gravitt said he thinks the program would relieve some of the burden on Dial-a-Ride and Senior Services and reduce the instances where qualified clients are denied transport. Based on the funding, he estimates the new program could provide as many as 5,600 rides.

“We anticipate Dial-a-Ride being much more accessible — no ride turndowns,” Gravitt said. “That’s what these numbers are based on.” 

County Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson said she was concerned about the Forsyth population caught in the middle: disabled adults who generally don’t qualify for transportation assistance.

“We’ve heard time and again that we have a huge chasm between folks who are aging out of the services provided by schools,” she said. “They’re not youth. They’re not seniors yet, but they still have a need to be able to get to work programs or various different appointments and things. How are we bringing them under this umbrella?”

Gravitt said the registration program for the pilot program would ensure clients were those in need of the service, those who either could not drive or had little means of securing transportation otherwise.

The program would partner the county with Common Courtesy, a nonprofit based in Atlanta, to provide rides to eligible clients. The reduced fares would be limited to 12 round trips per month per person. Riders would pay full price for any rides over this amount. The service would be limited to Forsyth County destinations. The service would operate weekdays, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Bob and Anne Carr, founders of Common Courtesy, told commissioners that their company was built to serve anyone who cannot or should not operate a vehicle. It generally serves those 18 and older, blind, disabled and mostly ambulatory.

The Carrs have achieved local fame for having launched the business several years before Uber took to the roadways. Common Courtesy has been featured on CNBC, Fox Business and in a host of other national business publications.

The service was founded in 2006 right after the Carrs witnessed an incident involving a senior who was backing out of a space and nearly struck about a half dozen other seniors walking past.

Anne said the couple initially launched the service within their neighborhood as a volunteer endeavor, but the enterprise failed. They revived the idea again when the Carrs learned about Uber’s business model and decided to give it another shot.

Bob said there are occasions where those with walkers and wheelchairs can be served.

Ann said the county leadership should develop the criteria for those eligible to use the service.

Semanson said she’d like to get a working idea of what sort of eligibility criteria Common Courtesy uses for its clients, then fashion a custom set of criteria for Forsyth County’s service.

Forsyth County’s current Dial-a-Ride serves those 18 years or older. Those under 18 must have an adult accompany them. Medically disabled passengers must be accompanied by an attendant who rides for free. 

Gravitt said Dial-a-Ride would often be able to accommodate those that Common Courtesy couldn’t because the fleet’s vans are equipped to handle wheelchairs.

Commissioners said they would like to develop a criteria for those eligible for the new program, and they charged staff to include those requirements on the application when clients register for the service.

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