Upper Perk shuttle to stop services July 13
Just shy of its fourth birthday, the Upper Perk Coaster will be saying goodbye to the community.
The coaster, run by the non-profit organization Partnership Transportation Management Association (PTMA) of Montgomery County, announced Friday they will be suspending services through both the Upper Perk and Community coasters due to a lack of funding.
Coaster rides were $2 per person with discounts for senior citizens, students and the disabled. Seniors with a state-issued SEPTA ID card and children rode for free.
“As you know over the past several years, due to funding cuts at the county and federal levels, the Coaster has had to rely on contributions from participating municipalities, private partners, some state funding and lottery funding in order to cover the Coasters’ operating costs,” said Executive Director Peggy Schmidt through a June 29 press release.
“During this time the PTMA has supplemented the operating costs with funding from their reserve account. This account is now depleted and no additional funding sources are on the horizon.”
Schmidt said the rise in gas prices also contributed to the decision to stop services. The last day for the shuttle will be July 13.
The Upper Perk Coaster shuttled residents in Red Hill, Pennsburg, East Greenville and Upper Hanover to area grocery, pharmacy and mass merchandise stores, medical and dental offices and the Upper Perkiomen Senior Center.
The Community Coaster availed residents in Lower Salford, Franconia, Telford, Souderton and Lansdale with similar services.
The coaster started serving the Upper Perkiomen Valley in July 2009 after those services were solicited by Upper Perkiomen Chamber of Commerce President Luanne Stauffer and Upper Perkiomen Senior Center Executive Director Joy Luff, among others.
“I’m really disappointed, especially since we fought so hard to get them here,” Luff said of the decision to stop the shuttle. “I think it will be another hardship for seniors. For some of them this is their only mode of transportation.
“I understand the money’s not there,” she said of the lack of funding. “It’s just a shame it’s hitting the most vulnerable population, seniors, the most.”
Seniors, who relied on the shuttle to get around, saw the shuttle schedule decline from three days per week in the Upper Perkiomen Valley to just one, effective this March.
The Indian Valley service went from Monday through Friday to three days per week around the same time.
Partnership TMA Deputy Director Anthony Johnson said the Upper Perk Coaster sees an average of 180 riders per month, many of them repeats.
“Many of the people we serve are elderly or have disabilities and either have given up their cars or don’t have access to transportation,” he said. “It’s really hard to hear they won’t be able to get to the pharmacy to get medications or to get back and forth to work. It’s just difficult to see that happen.”
Many of the residents of Upper Perkiomen Manor in Red Hill said they are upset by the decision to stop coaster services.
When we lose our inde-pendence, that’s the only way we can travel,” said Mary Slick, who said she used the coaster to go to physical therapy and do her shopping. “We appreciate it and would love to have it back if we could.”
Instead, she said, she will have to find an alternate way to get around as her children work and others are not in good health themselves.
“I used it to go to the drug store, Walmart, St. Luke’s Medical Center,” said Elsie Papowski. “I feel that we’re living longer and don’t have any means of transportation,” Slick said of the lack of funding for programs like the coaster. “I feel like because we’re older we don’t matter.”
Manor Manager Linda Mohr noted that because of the coaster’s availability, residents decided to give up their vehicles to utilize the service. While many of the seniors, who are on a fixed income, have little money to spend on transportation, some said they would be willing to pay a small fee to be able to use the coaster again.
PTMA’s Johnson said the organization is hopeful they will be able to reinstate services when funding becomes available again, possibly as early as late fall. They are optimistic additional federal monies will be available then.
Area seniors say that would truly be money well spent.