Driver shortage leaves most vulnerable at risk

Shelby Public Transit urgently hiring, Catholic Social Services seeking volunteer drivers

By Shannon Bohle -

SIDNEY — A shortage of truck and delivery drivers is currently gripping the country. But what many may not realize is the lack of transportation drivers for people with immediate needs.

Elderly, blind, and low-income individuals are exceptionally vulnerable right now. While county resources in Ohio can provide vehicles, they can’t seem to hire enough drivers. Local charities are hoping to fill the gap but are also coming up short-staffed.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people doing Uber and Lyft here, and cost is a factor, so that they may not have the ability to pay more than a few dollars. So, our goal is to try to utilize any transportation resources in the community — Medicaid, passport, veteran’s benefits, and public transit availability are all things we consider — and if they are still unable to find a ride, then we get them connected with our RideConnect Volunteer Driver program,” said Heather Robison, Transportation Community Liaison at Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley in Sidney. “Some of the challenges include the capacity to pay, lack of after hours transportation when public transportation is unavailable, the need to go out of the county, and not knowing how to utilize Uber or Lyft. We work together to try to remedy those transportation needs.”

During the pandemic, the advantages of phone and video doctor visits have benefited patient health. But, right now, after so much time has passed since the onset of COVID-19, an actual in-person physician visit is often needed.

Robison stressed the immediacy of the predicament.

“Many are calling RideLink because they need screenings or follow-ups for surgeries, so telemedicine is not an option. Even if it were, it’s like an onion. When you pull it back, they may not have the knowledge of how to use a computer or the money to own one.”

To try to wrangle the problem, Robison’s supervisor, Michelle Caserta-Bixler, holds transportation meetings with providers in the community. Funded through ODOT, she is the mobility manager for Darke, Champaign, Shelby, and Clark Counties. Meanwhile, Robison reaches out to local groups, with members who may need transportation services, to let them know about RideLink and RideConnect’s Volunteer Driver program.

Ron Schalow, manager of the Shelby Public Transit, was equally distressed about the transportation shortage.

“It’s a significant issue in our daily operations. Despite social media efforts and other ads, we’re down 50%. And it is not just a local problem, it is a national one within the transit industry,” he said.

The reasons for his former staff’s departure are varied, but “some have had COVID-19 concerns, while others have wanted to fully retire,” Schalow said.

“Right now, availability is the biggest barrier” when it comes to providing transportation services county-wide. The problem is exacerbated because “we do not have any taxi services based in this county,” Schalow said.

Most Shelby Public Transit is provided as a “shared ride” experience, which means a trip will take longer, but the cost will be significantly lower. Transportation outside of the county is possible, but is more expensive for users.

“Sometimes these out-of-county fees are covered by a separate contract if it is a medical transport,” said Schalow.

Schalow is urgently hiring.

“I’m looking for someone who wants to give back to the community. That’s because our service provides a tremendous hand up for those who need it, and this person will be spending their time productively,“ Schalow explained. “They must be 25 years or older, consistent, have a driver’s license, and be willing to provide origin-to-destination service (curb-to-curb or door-to-door service). They do not need to have a CDL and the vehicles are insured by us.”

The part-time position would require driving any one of the 12 vehicles in their fleet, which includes standard-size vans, smaller accessible vans, and cutaway busses. The maximum seating is 13 passengers in one vehicle. The hours are Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., with no evenings, weekends, or holidays when the city of Sidney is closed.

Interested individuals can pick up an application at City Hall.

Individuals wishing to volunteer for the RideConnect Volunteer Driver program may reach Heather Robison at 937-575-7128.

Shelby Public Transit urgently hiring, Catholic Social Services seeking volunteer drivers

By Shannon Bohle