Philip Balcombe, 70, a resident of Eldorado, retired from a job in real estate almost 10 years ago when post-polio muscle weakness, fatigue and pain required him to use a powered wheelchair.
At the time, he considered buying a new adaptive van so he could continue his work, but the cost of the vehicle outweighed what he could earn.
Adapted vans with lifts for wheelchairs range from $39,000 to $62,000.
Now that Balcombe can no longer drive, he relies on Santa Fe County’s senior transportation services. He’s grateful for it, he said. However, the service is limited to weekday business hours. County officials say that’s because they only have enough funding to offer weekday shuttles.
The North Central Regional Transit District provides its free Blue Bus service from Eldorado to Santa Fe, but its nearest stop from Balcombe’s house is five miles away, at the Agora Shopping Center. Even if his wheelchair’s battery is fully charged, Balcombe said, it cannot travel that far.
Besides, he would like to attend Quaker meetings on Canyon Road in Santa Fe on Sundays — when neither service is available.
Balcombe’s plight spotlights a critical need in the region, transportation officials say.
“Transportation to appointments is a pressing need for seniors and we are hearing about it statewide, particularly in rural areas,” said Monica Abeita, executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District.
The district contracts with Santa Fe County and other rural senior service providers through an agreement with the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department.
The need for expanded services in well-known, Abeita said. But, she added, even with additional state funding for New Mexico’s four Area Agencies on Aging, there would be no guarantee contractors would offer weekend transportation.
Contractors receive funds based on the number of units of service they provide.
I asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, via an online contact form, if additional funds could be designated through a new unit cost for after-hours and weekend senior transportation services.
So far, I have not heard back from her office on the issue.
Navigating the current transportation system can be complicated for any senior, let alone a passenger with a motorized wheelchair or another type of mobility limitation. A county resident using the regional Blue Bus on a weekday to get to an appointment in Santa Fe would need to schedule a pickup time with the city’s Santa Fe Ride service at a Blue Bus drop-off location or would have to be dropped off at a Santa Fe Trails bus stop.
Keith Wilson, the Transit Division director for the city of Santa Fe, said Santa Fe Ride only offers shuttle services within three-quarters of a mile of the city’s fixed bus route — with the exception of transportation to Santa Fe Community College, which is located in Santa Fe County.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city is required to provide paratransit service for eligible customers who live outside the service area, but only if the customers are able to get to the service area.
The city’s service follows ADA requirements of providing service within three-quarters of a mile of a bus route. However, transportation providers are permitted to extend the distance.
I asked Wilson if his division might help. He said he would be happy to engage in a conversation to solve this problem.
Meanwhile, Balcombe tried the online referral service Go-Go-Grandparent and found that in the Santa Fe area, Uber and Lyft drivers don’t have vehicles equipped to handle passengers who use wheelchairs.
Good to Go Taxi, an Española business, has a lift-equipped vehicle; the estimated cost for a round-trip ride between Eldorado and Santa Fe was between $150 and $200.
“That is not a price I can afford,” Balcombe said.
Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Santa Fe County transportation: 505-992-3069
• North Central Regional Transit District Blue Bus: 866-206-0754
• City of Santa Fe’s Santa Fe Ride service: 505-955-2001