New Grant for JFS On the Go Senior Rides Program Aims to Expand Transportation Optionsby Natalie Jacobs April 26, 2017
By 2030, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) estimates that the number of seniors in the county will more than double. In a small preview of the changes this will precipitate throughout the region, the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has been experiencing explosive growth in its Access program, the service that operates smaller busses and offers discounted rates for people with disabilities and, increasingly, seniors. Unfortunately for the city’s public transportation agency, ridership among all other demographics is falling, making it more difficult to operate the expensive Access program. MTS is reportedly evaluating Access in an attempt to make up for the greater costs of its special trips. At the same time, the agency is exploring new routes to tighten up the system and fight ridership shortfalls.
With those two factors converging quickly, it may be increasingly difficult for San Diego’s aging population to get around a city of disconnected neighborhoods that relies heavily on freeways for traffic flow. Keeping an eye on this, Jewish Family Service’s On the Go program has been helping to fill the gaps of senior transportation since 2003. On the Go operates a system of volunteer drivers who take seniors to appointments or on errands, while also offering group shuttles to various events around town and recent expansion to help coordinate Uber and Lyft rides for their users. The program reports it has done “close to 300,000 rides” from more than 400 volunteer drivers in its 14 years.
Recognizing that programs like On the Go can help pick up where public transportation leaves off, SANDAG has granted both local and federal funds to the nonprofit for the last 10 years. Most recently, JFS received $1.8 million from a combination of local money via the TransNet Senior Mini-Grant program, which is funded by SANDAG’s local sales tax measure, and federal money divvied up through a wonky Section 5310 Grant Award.
The TransNet tax has come under local scrutiny after the independent online news source Voice of San Diego uncovered evidence of incorrect forecasting on the part of SANDAG planners. By Voice of San Diego’s calculations, the original TransNet tax hike from 2004 will likely come in $5 billion short of its promises. The investigation also found that the $18 billion in transportation funding promised in this past November’s proposed Measure A tax hike was also miscalculated but stayed on the ballot anyway. Measure A did not receive the two-thirds support it required to pass, but the false forecasting has created a firestorm for SANDAG, reaching up to Sacramento as local lawmakers attempt to force reform. SANDAG also recently announced it has hired a lawfirm to conduct an independent investigation into who knew what when.
It is unclear how grant programs like the Senior Mini-Grant – which has also awarded funds to the cities of La Mesa, Oceanside and Vista, along with other nonprofits with shuttle services like ACT, Alpha Project, ElderHelp, FACT and Travelers Aid Society – would be effected by funding shortfalls. The most recent grant cycle of the TransNet award covers fiscal year 2018-19. In its statement on the latest $1.8 million, JFS notes that this provides two years of funding for the region’s largest senior transportation program.
Through SANDAG, Jewish Family Service and its On the Go transportation program has been awarded almost $1.7 million in federal funds and more than $3.1 million in TransNet Senior Mini-Grant funding over the past 10 years.