TAG will provide rides to Greenwich seniors

Tuesday was a big day for the Transportation Association of Greenwich (TAG) as it marked its 30th anniversary with a brand-new vehicle and announced it’s taking over a longtime American Red Cross service.

Starting July 1, TAG will officially take over as the management and operator of the Red Cross’s Motor Service Program, a 75-year-old service that provides more than 5,500 rides annually to Greenwich seniors who need to go to medical appointments. TAG has already been doing the program’s dispatch and scheduling for more than 10 years, but now it will assume full responsibility and the Red Cross’s three vehicles will now be parked in TAG’s lot on Riverside Avenue.

Mary Young, CEO of the Metro New York North Chapter, which includes Greenwich, said that this was being done because of the Red Cross’s changing mission. A similar service in Stamford is being phased out, but in Greenwich, where it has been operating since at least 1939, it will go on, thanks to TAG.

“We’ve been a little more focused more recently on our core mission services and more frequent responses and our work with the armed services helping soldiers coming home,” Ms. Young said. “We knew we were looking for a partner that we could transition this to and it just made perfect sense to look to the Transportation Association of Greenwich. They are very committed to this community and will help to insure this service to Greenwich residents will continue on into the future.”

TAG’s executive director, James Boutelle, said the same vehicles will be used and the volunteer drivers who have worked for the Red Cross will continue to serve that role with TAG, making sure seniors get the same service they are accustomed to.

“The ridership will not see a change,” Mr. Boutelle said. “They will see the same driver in the same vehicle.”

This is another service being added to TAG’s already full plate. It provides more than 57,000 subsidized trips per year, benefiting Greenwich’s elderly and infirm as well as helping other nonprofits like Greenwich Adult Day Care, Abilis, the YMCA, and the senior center and even providing rides to commuters and service for people parking at satellite locations for the Greenwich Town Party and the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. And this partnership becomes official in the wake of TAG not receiving its full funding request from the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET).

In February, the BET’s Budget Committee reduced TAG’s request in the budget from $260,000 to $182,500 and an attempt at the full BET’s meeting by member Jeffrey Ramer to add back in some of that money was defeated. Because of that cut, Mr. Boutelle said, additional services to the town, such as work with Meals on Wheels or The Nathaniel Witherell, might have to be reduced, but he told the Post that adding this service from the Red Cross is true to TAG’s core mission of providing transportation to seniors in need.

“This is a priority,” Mr. Boutelle said. “The priorities for TAG are the elderly and the handicapped, and that’s exactly who the Red Cross Motor Services program benefits. This is why we were founded by the United Way. And if the Red Cross dropped the program like it did in Stamford, those riders would be coming to TAG anyway. Doing this allows us to make that transition so riders can see the same drivers and see the same vehicle.”

Mr. Boutelle added that because of the BET’s recent cut, it would not have been possible to add this service if the Red Cross’s volunteer drivers had not come aboard, too. There are also discussions about TAG working with Call a Ride in town to try to partner on some services as a result of the cut. At last month’s budget hearing, the BET left the door open to TAG coming in for an interim appropriation if needed.

Because of the already tight budget, even before the recent cut, Mr. Boutelle said TAG has had to add advertising to many of its vehicles, something he and his board of directors are not happy about. Because of a local donor contributing $19,000, the new vehicle won’t have advertising.

The transfer becomes official on July 1, giving TAG and the Red Cross time to work out all the details. One of those unsettled details is how much the rides will cost. While the Red Cross was able to provide the rides for free, TAG does not have that luxury, and Mr. Boutelle said several options are on the table, like getting $5 tickets through Dial A Ride or offering reduced tickets at $2.40 a ride through an existing state program, which would allow for an expanded travel zone, meaning seniors going to a doctor in Stamford would now be able to get that ride through TAG.

“I can’t do a free service,” Mr. Boutelle said. “For the people who truly can’t afford it, and that’s what I was talking to the BET about, we’re hoping to find a pool of money within the Department of Social Services. We have never done means testing, but if someone truly can’t afford $2.40 to go to the doctor, we’re going to look for the department to purchase some tickets.”

The new vehicle, which was shown off at the press conference announcing the service transition, replaces one with more than 200,000 miles on it, but another vehicle in TAG’s fleet also has 200,000 miles, and Mr. Boutelle said if that vehicle can’t be used then TAG will have to look at cutting services like transporting town employees so existing services to seniors can continue. The new vehicle, which seats 16 passengers, will primarily be used to transport people to and from the River House in Cos Cob for Greenwich Adult Day Care.


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