Seniors angered by cuts to CamTran

Out-of-county trips discontinued

EBENSBURG — Carson Wynn, a Patton-area senior citizen, used to enjoy trips to Bedford County apple orchards.

“It was just a great day, a great outing,” he said.

They were trips he and other seniors took by organizing free transportation from the Cambria County Transit Authority.

But in July, those seniors were told the trips would no longer be available. That information was passed down by CamTran officials, Wynn said.

Wynn and about three dozen of his peers traveled Thursday morning to the Cambria County Courthouse, where the protesters expressed their disgust with the changes before the county’s commissioners.

Previously, seniors were able to arrange for group transportation by CamTran shuttles for specialty recreation outings — visits to places like the Bedford County apple orchards, the Mountain Playhouse in Somerset County and the shopping outlets in Grove City, Mercer County.

The shuttles were 85 percent funded by Pennsylvania Lottery money allocated through PennDOT, and the remaining

15 percent was covered by the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging.

That was true for passengers 65 and older.

The Area Agency on Aging funded 100 of travel expenses for passengers from 60 to 64 years old.

That system came to an end this summer.

Wynn remembers when he received the news that CamTran will now only transport elderly passengers to recreation locations in Cambria and Blair counties.

There would be no more trips to Bedford for apples.

“They just want us to sit in the living room and waste away,” he said.

Janice Shilling of Patton felt the same way. She said her out-of-county trips by public transportation would be limited solely to medical appointments.

“I think they just want us to go to the doctor, go home and die,” she said in a courthouse lobby before the commissioners’ morning meeting.

Josh Yoder, CamTran’s marketing director, said changes had to be made because PennDOT officials were unwilling to fund far-away excursions, namely trips to locations like Grove City.

Following PennDOT’s recommendation, CamTran officials opted to alter the authority’s service area, Yoder said.

Recreational excursions for seniors now will be limited to sites only within Blair and Cambria counties, such as the Mishler Theatre or the Johnstown Flood Museum and Inclined Plane.

The changes were troubling to the seniors gathered Thursday, many of whom cannot drive and rely on the service for out-of-county trips.

Wynn, Shilling and their elderly peers each had time to address county commissioners directly during the meeting’s public comment period, and they were joined by state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown.

“All of us are here to ask for your help,” Burns said.

The commissioners did not make the decision to change CamTran’s service area, but they appoint members to the authority’s board.

Burns said his office was inundated with complaints from seniors about the loss of transportation services.

And when he spoke, he seemed to contradict Yoder’s claim that PennDOT officials requested the change. Burns said he addressed PennDOT leaders directly.

“PennDOT verified that this was a locally made decision,” Burns said. “If CamTran wanted to bring this service back tomorrow, all they would have to do is notify PennDOT that they wanted their service area changed.

“Then the next day they could start running buses to those areas, and they would get reimbursed for those trips through PennDOT.”

Burn next called on the commissioners to offer their support. He asked them to sign a petition backing the seniors and to visit his Harrisburg office for a meeting with CamTran leaders.

“We need CamTran to come to the table and figure out what we can do,” he said, before addressing President Commissioner Tom Chernisky directly. “Tom, you are always talking about, ‘Work together, work together.’ Let’s do it.”

And Chernisky responded, saying he was willing to “work together,” inviting Burns to fill an upcoming vacancy on the CamTran Authority’s board. Burns did not immediately accept or decline.

CamTran’s Executive Director Rose Lucey-Noll then had an opportunity to address the crowd, offering statistics and giving an explanation that mirrored Yoder’s later comments.

Yoder also said that the county’s Share Ride program, which allows seniors to reserve curbside pickups for transportation to doctor appointments, beauty shops and grocery stores, remains largely unchanged.

And Area Agency on Aging Administrator Veil Griffith explained how the agency is attempting to fill the void left by CamTran’s elimination of out-of-county recreational trips.

The agency will now fund charter bus trips to places such as the Bedford apple orchards, the Mountain Playhouse and even Pittsburgh, she said.

However, Griffith admitted that the agency will not be able to fund as many trips.

And she stressed that all Cambria County seniors are invited to attend the excursions, which will pick up and drop off passengers in Johnstown and Ebensburg. Griffith said her agency will work with CamTran to arrange transportation to and from seniors homes to those Johnstown and Ebensburg locations.

“We do want to provide that opportunity for the seniors. It won’t be at the same level as before,” Griffith said during a post-meeting phone interview. “We do understand that the trips are important to a lot of seniors. … We’re not excluding any of the centers.”