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Seniors and students have joined forces to push for a better public transit system that gets them conveniently and safely to school, work and their medical appointments.
Students from UMass Dartmouth and speakers from area groups that work with the elderly aired their complaints Thursday at a press conference organized by Mass PIRG to announce the release of a 40-page report on public transportation issues that affect both groups.
Among their concerns: the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, which operates public buses in the region, doesn't run after 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and there is no service on Sundays.
Eileen Marum, director of the Bristol County Chapter of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, spoke of the plight of Muriel Barksdale, an 80-year-old New Bedford woman who voluntarily surrendered her driver's license.
Barksdale is now dependent on family, friends and public transportation to get to doctor's appointments in Dartmouth and to do her grocery shopping.
"I never get to a doctor's appointment without a lot of trouble," Marum said, quoting Barksdale's difficulty in arranging rides. "Getting around is exhausting."
Marum said that Barksdale waits at cold bus stops and worries about an injury from a fall because of untreated or unshoveled sidewalks.
Theresa Larson, chief operating officer of Coastline Elderly Services Inc., New Bedford, said seniors need a better transportation system, not only to make their doctor visits, but also to help them lead independent lives.
She said many don't have family or friends they can rely on or don't have public transit where they live. She said, for example, there is no public transportation in Marion or Rochester.
Larson said the average cost for private transportation is $5-$10, and seniors live on fixed income and many have don't have the money.
Some seniors get so frustrated they wait until their condition worsens and end up taking a costly trip in an ambulance to the hospital, she said.
Siggy Meilus, a UMass Dartmouth senior, said she lives off campus and is dependent on public transportation to get to school, to shop for groceries and go to her job in New Bedford.
She wants to take in night classes at UMD and enjoy community celebrations in downtown New Bedford, but she has no way of getting there, she said.
Mayoral candidate Jon Mitchell said the region also needs a better transportation system to help people get to work. He added as UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College establish a greater presence downtown, there will be a need for better public transit for students.
Patrick Nagle, of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, said Antonio F.D. Cabral and Mayor Scott W. Lang were invited to the press conference, but only Mitchell attended the event.
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