TWIN FALLS • Annette Hill took her last ride in a Snake River Taxi cab Tuesday, using the last punches on her transportation card.
Hill, 51, has been blind since infancy. She doesn’t know how she’s going to get around now that her ride subsidy program is being discontinued.
The Living Independence Network Corp. (LINC), which has run a transportation program for two decades, serves about 800 elderly and disabled people in the Magic Valley.
“Life for many of us won’t be the same without it,” Hill said, as she waited for the cab to arrive at her tiny apartment in Twin Falls. “This is bad for me, but there are people who are in worse shape.”
Hill has been able to live independently because her rides to a grocery store or a doctor’s appointment are subsidized by the program.
LINC pays $5 toward each one-way ride on one of the few forms of public transportation in Twin Falls, Burley and Rupert. If the ride costs $8, LINC pays $5 and the rider pays $3. Hill’s ride from home to Shopko, then WinCo and back home took three punches on her card.
“I worry that I might have to move into an assisted-living facility if I can’t do things for myself,” she said.
Melva Heinrich, LINC’s director in Twin Falls, said she is more than concerned about finding a solution.
“We fully understand that transportation is one of the biggest barriers people with disabilities and seniors have to maintaining their independence in the community,” Heinrich wrote in a recent letter to users explaining that the program will be discontinued at the end of December.
The program didn’t run out of money, Heinrich said Monday. It has run into a funding gap. The Idaho Transportation Department, which doles out Federal Transit Administration grant money, adopted a new cycle this year, moving the start of the cycle from April to October, creating a six-month gap in the program.
Since the letter went out, fund-raising efforts by LINC combined with a large private donation may allow the program to restart in March, she said.
The long-term status of the program, however, is in question, Heinrich said. The funding took a 30 percent drop in 2015, from $200,000 to $140,000.
The drop reduced each user’s access to transportation to 14 one-way trips per month.
Even with the program, 14 one-way trips are inadequate for some who need medical treatment such as three-times-per-week dialysis.
A significant number of Trans IV riders are subsidized by LINC, said its director, Lynn Baird.
“I don’t know how much this will affect (Trans IV’s) business,” Baird said. “Riders will have to pay for (transportation) themselves.”
“There is a huge home-bound population in Twin Falls,” said Jeanette Roe, executive director of the Twin Falls Senior Center. “Many of them can’t afford (public transportation) without the subsidy. They just don’t have the money — they have to buy groceries.”
Some have criticized the program for including non-medical rides, such as shopping trips and visits to friends.
“But socialization is important,” Roe said. “This is a community problem. The community is going to have to rally to get to fill this void.”