As people age into their golden years, they have a desire to remain independent and live at home. If driving is no longer an option, many rely on public options or volunteer services.
One such program is the dial-a-ride Senior Express in McHenry Township, which operates in McHenry, Johnsburg, Ringwood and Wonder Lake.
“It keeps seniors in their home and out of institutions and gives them the quality of life they deserve,” McHenry Township Supervisor Donna Schaefer said.
The program provides seniors and people who are disabled anywhere with door-to-door service within the service area.
In MCRide, people 60 and older and people with disabilities are eligible for trips in the service area. They are able to reserve a ride at least an hour before pickup time.
Service goes to McHenry, Woodstock and Crystal Lake, to the Fox Lake Metra station and along Route 120 between Woodstock and McHenry, Route 14 between Woodstock and Crystal Lake, and Route 31 between Crystal Lake and McHenry.
Schaefer said MCRide helped improve senior transportation in the area.
“It’s getting a little better,” Schaefer said. “There are still barriers, but the MCRide program made it much better.”
The MCRide program is paid for with money from Pace, Crystal Lake, McHenry, Woodstock, Dorr Township, Greenwood Township, a McHenry County Senior Services grant and two federal grants.
Fares are based on a person’s trip length.
With MCRide, trips cannot be booked after 7 p.m., Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said.
“We haven’t yet seen a level of demand that would require that,” Wilmot said. “If we reach a point where there is demand to extend those hours, we can always do that if need arises.”
For Pace, 6 percent of its riders in the region are seniors, Wilmot said.
In Pace’s dial-a-ride programs, which are curb to curb, the drivers pick up riders in front of their houses or buildings in fully accessible buses. Drivers generally don’t pull into someone’s driveway or exit the vehicle to help someone in, Wilmot said.
There are liability issues, he said.
He added that leaving the vehicle unattended can be an issue as well, especially if there are other passengers on board the 15-person buses.
“It can make a process of picking up and dropping off passengers a little longer and can cause delays,” Wilmot said.
Algonquin Township also offers senior transportation with curb-to-curb service. Riders need to give advanced notice, however.
Taking a bus isn’t the only way to get around the county. Sarah Ponitz is the executive director of the Senior Care Volunteer Network, which coordinates volunteers to provide rides for seniors, among other things.
The rides could be for medical appointments, grocery shopping, volunteer opportunities or social engagements.
When volunteers provide the lifts, they help the senior from the door to the car and inside the senior’s destination. The service is free, but seniors have to register ahead of time, and reservations have to be made three days in advance for trips within the county and five days in advance for trips outside the county.
The network limits trips to up to 25 miles outside the county.
“I think there are a variety of ways for them, but there are a lot of challenges,” Ponitz said. “Options are available, but there’s some restrictions to some programs out there as well.”
Ponitz said the Senior Care Volunteer Network provides up to 1,200 rides a month.
“I think No. 1 is it’s not a stranger providing them with transport; there’s a friendship formed,” Ponitz said. “We help make sure they get through the door. Some [drivers] will wait at the appointment.”
Having services that pick up seniors at their doorstep is helpful, especially in situations where the nearest fixed-route bus stop may be blocks away.
“If a Pace stop is two or three blocks away, if it’s 10 degrees below zero, and you’re with a walker, it can be difficult,” Ponitz said.
Services to call
Senior Care Volunteer Network – 815-455-3120
McHenry Township Senior Express – 815-385-5605
MCRide – 800-451-4599
Algonquin Township Senior Transportation – 847-639-2700, ext. 6