JOLIET – The difficult journey of one woman in her 90s trying to visit Wal-Mart for grocery shopping was shared Wednesday at a panel discussion in Joliet on transportation for seniors.
The woman was at Senior Services Center of Will County and waited a long time for a cab ride she didn’t know she missed because she went to the restroom, recalled Barry Kolanowski, executive director of the agency.
He was there and tried to assist her. The cab companies he contacted all said they would be there in an hour. When one cab arrived, the woman needed Kolanowski’s help all the way to the car door, he said.
“This is the challenge,” Kolanowski told the panel of transportation officials and a crowd of mostly senior citizens Wednesday.
“Because when I look at the room here, we’re having a transportation meeting in a room that requires people to have transportation to get here,” he said.
Transportation services and the growing need for more and better public transportation were the subject of discussion at the panel presented by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, and hosted by the Senior Services Center of Will County.
Managers and leaders from PACE, the Regional Transportation Authority, Will County, the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living and others came to inform the crowd on available services and answer questions.
Kolanowski further illustrated how serious transportation issues are with statistics.
He said at the beginning of this year, the population of those 65 and older in Will County was about 73,000, and that it will increase to almost 100,000 within three years.
“If we feel the infrastructure is stressed now, we ain’t seen nothing yet. We have to make some sincere, committed changes,” he said.
Some of the discussion revolved around the stigma of using public transportation and the need to expand education about available services to people who might otherwise not know.
Wendie Garlich, Will County Transportation Department mobility manager, said if any seniors are on Medicaid or Medicaid eligible, there are transportation providers who can give them free rides to doctor’s appointments.
She said in east Will County, communities are very rural with no fixed routes.
“For people that can’t drive, their only option is to use the Dial-A-Ride services,” she said.
One attendee asked if there could be buses traveling up and down Weber Road and Larkin Avenue.
“It’s a very busy corridor and it sure would help,” the attendee said.
Tom Groeninger, PACE paratransit services manager, said he was not aware of any plans for those routes but that the attendee could be put touch with the right people.
Will County Board member Herbert Brooks Jr., D-Joliet, asked if there were any conversations on having public transportation on Sundays. Groeninger said he wasn’t aware of any discussions, but people in PACE’s planning department could address the question.