Transportation checkpoint: Audit shows Trumbull seniors aren't using service

Trumbull is meeting the transportation needs of its rising senior population, an audit produced for the Board of Finance concludes; however, the number of people using the service has become a lingering economic issue as the town prepares its 2016-17 budget.

According to the Trumbull Senior Center Transportation Policy and Procedures Review, which was written by financial and accounting controls analyst Therese Keegan, only 20 seniors utilized the transportation services the town provides for them over a 21-day audit period — an average of fewer than one person a day, with multiple days showing zero usage.

“The audit showed that our bus service, which is a private service that runs multiple times during the day, is going unused,” said Board of Finance Chairwoman Elaine Hammers. “What are the runs for if the entire bus is only being used by one person in the morning? That’s the problem we’re looking at. …

“On a brighter note, the audit shows that our senior outreach is excellent and that we’re meeting the needs of those who need the help,” she added.

While a majority of Trumbull seniors use the service for medical appointments, the audit highlighted that shopping trips are offered weekly — a trip on Monday and another on Tuesday — and that some seniors utilize the service to check off both items, doctor visits and shopping needs.

“Medical transportation is currently scheduled utilizing one-half of daily driver time available regardless of the number of seniors utilizing the service on a given day,” Keegan wrote to the Board of Finance in her report.

She recommended that board members reduce medical transportation availability by one day per week and one hour per day, which would slash driver time by a minimum of 624 hours and $7,200 annually.

Audit breakdown

The transportation usage was tracked over a 21-day period, between June 15 and July 14 last summer.

According to the audit, 15 seniors utilizing transportation services utilized the services for multiple purposes during the month.

The report said that approximately 700 seniors have membership, but only 69 members — less than 10% — utilized transportation services one or more times during the month tested.

“The center employs four part-time drivers,” the audit said. “Each driver works 19.5 hours per week for approximately 1,000 hours per year.

Driver salaries total $51,900, fuel expense is estimated at $6,600, and there are additional vehicle and compliance costs to the program.

“Per sampling, the Senior Center is transporting 69 seniors per month at a cost of $60,000 per year,” the audit said.

Two options

Keegan gave the center’s management two options to resolve the usage issue — limit appointments by day of the week or hours of the day or by outsourcing medical transportation to a variety of public or private alternatives, like American Chaircar Services.

Scheduling is currently available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days per week.

“Reducing to four days per week would free up 390 driver-hours annually, yet would allow the program to grow should increased participation occur,” Keegan recommended.

“Scheduling is currently scattered throughout the morning; only five of 34 appointments were scheduled for afternoon and four of the five afternoon appointments were for a single client,” she added. “An attempt could be made to reduce afternoon scheduling availability. Pickup times will still be unpredictable, so maximum driver time saved is estimated at one hour per day, 265 hours annually.”

As for the second option — outsourcing town driver salaries, plus estimated annual fuel cost of approximately $15,000 — was troublesome when compared to Uber rates of $2 plus $.18 per minute, which represents annualized costs in the range of $15,000 to $17,000 based on number of trips during the sample month.

“Uber transportation is not wheelchair-accessible, but other services offer that option,” Keegan acknowledged.

In addition, she explained that there is a broad difference in medical transportation policies of surrounding towns.

For example, Shelton and Westport do not offer such services, with Norwalk providing no medical transportation and charging $5 for other services and appointments.

Elsewhere, Stratford provides free medical transportation, but charges $2 for round trips to other activities.

“Towns that do not provide medical transportation do provide information on public and private alternatives,” Keegan wrote. “Cost is borne privately by seniors. Some alternatives can be paid, at least in part, through medical insurance.”

Taking action

According to the report, the Senior Center’s management responded that it has currently canceled Tuesday doctor appointments and that medical drivers are assisting with the Tuesday shoppers.

In addition, one of the bus drivers retired in the fall and the position was not rehired, the center’s management told Keegan.

The drivers make between $11.45 and $14 an hour, according to management, and only one driver — a 17-year employee — makes the highest rate.

“If the town requests a cut to their hours, I am sure they will retire, because they pay out of pocket at least $150 plus their licence,” the center said in the report. “Medicare will not pay for this medical. Not to mention the drivers provide custodial services as needed until the custodian arrives at 12:30 p.m.”

The drivers also deliver the mail to residents daily.

“The buses just don’t roll out at 8 a.m. — they must complete a daily maintenance log daily, Brakes, oil, tire treads, clean window and seats , sweep and if it snows clean off the buses,” the center explained. “They also route out runs and handle any cancellations or add-ons. When food deliveries arrive for social services the drivers get wagons and unload cars of food for the food pantry.

“We are anxious to resolve this problem and continue to effectively serve our senior citizens,” the management added to the report.

Financial difficulty

Of the center’s 706 current members, 537 are Trumbull residents, the audit highlighted.

With the town’s senior population — age 65 and above — at 6,700-plus residents, according to a 2012 report, it was recommended that the Senior Center management review its current outreach practices and consider additional opportunities to provide a greater number of residents with information about the services available to them.

“We need to take into consideration that there is a large number of seniors living in Trumbull and a large portion of this senior citizen population are experiencing financial difficulty,” management acknowledged in Keegan’s report. “Due to the current economy, seniors are working well into their late 60s. Some need to work for insurance since they cannot receive medicare until age 67. …

“We will continue to attend senior-related events and health fairs to distribute newsletters and information,” the report added. “We utilize the website and local town television station.”