Theresa Gardner lives by herself, has had the same job for more than 20 years and has a busy social life. But cerebral palsy keeps Gardner from driving herself to her job and all the other places that keep her independent.
Now, after being in service a little over a year, the ride program Gardner uses to get from place to place will terminate in January due to a lack of funding. The program, Accessible Integrated Rides, was started in September 2016 by the Montana Independent Living Project and is operated by Helena Transportation. But Kiki Moses, the Business Development Analyst at MILP, called more than 100 organizations and individuals without finding enough support to make it past January. An attempt in early 2016 to get the city of Helena to include AIR into its transportation budget failed.
Even with AIR, it can be difficult for a person with a disability to get a ride in Helena. Capital Transit, Helena’s public transportation system, runs its paratransit bus from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays except for holidays. Riders have to make a reservation 24 hours ahead of the time they need to be dropped off and picked up. Gardner said she sometimes has to sit in the waiting room at her doctor’s office an hour and a half before her appointment because it’s the only time a ride is available.
AIR only operates on evenings, weekends and holidays — when Capital Transit isn’t running. AIR riders have to call ahead to schedule a time to be picked up and dropped off, like they do with public transportation.
Despite any hassle, AIR is a lifeline for Gardner and other riders with disabilities. Gardner recently performed in the Nutcracker on the Rocks which required weeks of evening rehearsals. She also can go to restaurants, movies and community events such as Alive at Five.
“I got to my independence because of this service,” Gardner said.
While the Montana Independent Living Project is able to fund all of the administrative costs, it relies on organizations and individual donors to pledge $3,600 for a month of rides. AIR gives approximately 250 rides a month.
“It’s just the cost of the voucher,” Moses said. “The rider pays $1 co-pay and the difference is subsidized at $12 to $14 a month.”
Without donors, the program will end in January, leaving people with disabilities a short window to commute to a job, go to appointments or grocery…