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PVTA van service changes scheduling for seniors

— Starting today, seniors looking for rides through the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s paratransit program will have a five-day window in which to schedule trips.

Officials say they hope the change will mean more dial-a-ride vans could be available to pick up senior citizens who depend on this mode of public transportation.

Through March 31, the PVTA has adjusted the advance reservation policy for its paratransit service by giving people only a five-day period in which to schedule rides, rather than the current 14-day window.

“A five-day advance should significantly reduce the cancellations and no-shows, which can be expensive for us,” said Mary MacInnes, executive director of the PVTA.

MacInnes said the hope is that the reduced reservation time frame will also mean more flexibility for scheduling the van service.

The dial-a-ride, or paratransit vans, are available to both disabled individuals and senior citizens, but PVTA is mandated to give preference to those who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act, while seniors get rides on a space-available basis.

“They’re hoping this will open up availability for senior van service,” said Maura Plante, a program director at the Amherst Senior Center.

MacInnes said PVTA staff will compile data to evaluate whether the change is successful. The motivation is to keep service intact while streamlining as much as possible, she said.

“PVTA is trying to provide services as efficiently as possible so we can continue to provide the services, that’s the main reason,” MacInnes said.

Earlier this year, officials at the Amherst Senior Center began strategizing about getting residents to offer rides to senior citizens, as some were being told they had to give an even longer lead time, as much as three weeks, to schedule a van ride and even then could be bumped from their appointment.

The dial-a-ride service is provided through a contract between PVTA and Hulmes Transportation Services Ltd. of Belchertown and is offered to senior citizens for a fee, between $2.50 and $3.50, that is lower than most taxi companies charge.

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