Silver Streak: Calaveras Seniors, Veterans Welcome New Ride Service

Kevin Sauls
By Kevin Sauls September 15, 2015 14:47

Paul Wickham, 80, a Korean War vet, career trucker and former mall Santa, looks forward to riding the Silver Streak

Calaveras County is taking a big step forward in providing transportation for its senior citizens, veterans and disabled adults who can’t drive or use public transit.

Common Ground Senior Services, which provides Meals on Wheels in Calaveras and Amador counties, has won two grants totaling $400,000. The funding is being used to buy two eight-passenger buses and three minivans, all wheelchair accessible, and to hire a full-time dispatcher and a part-time driver.

The first bus and van in the new fleet – named Silver Streak Transports – arrived in August, with the remainder to join the fleet by early 2016.

Silver Streak will give seniors over 60 and veterans, many of whom are disabled, rides to and from medical appointments and other health and wellness trips. This was the top priority listed in the 2014 Calaveras County Public Transportation Plan.

The number who may potentially be served by Silver Streak will be considerable. Of Calaveras County’s 45,500 residents, 32 percent (roughly 14,500) are 60 or older, 17 percent (7,800) are disabled and nearly 12 percent (5,400) are veterans.

“It’s invigorating,” says Common Ground’s Kathi Toepel, who wrote the grants.

“Common Ground, Calaveras Health and Human Services Agency, Calaveras Transit, Paratransit and Caltrans have made a great, great team in developing this program,” she adds.

Requests for rides from seniors and veterans have tripled since word of the new service began to spread. Rides will be free, with a suggested donation depending on the length of trips.

Seniors who will benefit from the new service are excited.

“Yes sir! They’re very wonderful people,” says 80-year-old Korean War vet and San Andreas resident Paul Wickham about Common Ground’s staff. “They’ve done so many things for me.”

Wickham, who lost much of his right leg to diabetes and has other medical problems, already has ridden with Common Ground to doctor’s appointments in a single van the nonprofit has occasionally used. But he is excited that the expanded service will enable him to get to the Sacramento VA hospital more frequently.


Wickham on a greeting card in his Santa days

“Sometimes I’ve had to schedule two doctors’ appointments on the same day because that’s the only time transportation is available,” says Wickham, a white-bearded career truck driver who often moonlighted as a shopping mall Santa. “But with more buses and more trips, I won’t have to cram so much into one day.”

With funding secured and vehicles on the road, Common Ground now needs as many volunteer drivers as possible – especially veterans, and particularly in outlying areas such as West Point and Glencoe, Toepel says. Those interested can call Common Ground (209-498-2246).

The new program allows Calaveras County to offer senior transportation options similar to those in neighboring Tuolumne and Amador counties (see below).

Calaveras Transit offers fixed-route service on five loops within the county. Although drivers in some instances can go three-quarters of a mile off route to pick up passengers, it hasn’t had door-to-door Dial-a-Ride service since 2009. That leaves those living even a mile off the route out of luck.

“It’s really needed,” says Calaveras Transit Manager Deborah Mullen of the new service. “Our population is widely dispersed, and Calaveras Transit can’t be everywhere. Silver Streak will be more flexible and responsive.”

“We know what the needs are, and transportation is the big one,” says Common Ground Executive Director Elizabeth Thompson.

Collaboration will continue as Silver Streak coordinates its service with other county and regional transit providers to make senior and veteran trips as convenient as possible.Toepel says the aim is to “move people rather than vehicles.”

In the past, with Common Ground using a single van borrowed from its Amador office to meet medical and other transit needs, seniors often experienced long waits for rides to doctors’ offices or to do essential errands like treks to the grocery store, pharmacy, dentist or physical therapist. Silver Streak should solve that problem.

While out-of-county trips to VA sites in Sacramento, Livermore and Palo Alto will be a priority, the new buses and vans also offer rides in-county and to health care specialists in Stockton, Modesto and other out-of-county locations.

Toepel, Common Ground’s associate director, is confident the two grants from state and federal funding sources will be renewed for a second year. After that, it will be up to the agency and the community to keep the program rolling.

One of her ideas is for veterans to “pay it forward” – pledging back to the Silver Streak program the mileage reimbursements they receive from the VA for medical trips.

Wickham already is doing so, and a woman in West Point made a donation to the program after Common Ground went the extra miles to deliver her veteran brother to a VA appointment in Palo Alto.

“It only makes sense,” says Wickham. “Why would you keep a reimbursement when someone else bought the gas and drove you?”

Donations are also part of the plan, as are vehicle sponsorships and fundraisers.

“The support this county has for seniors is amazing,” Toepel says, “and I believe riders themselves are going to believe in the system and support it.”

Free and Low-Cost Transportation Options

Calaveras County

Silver Streak Transports, (209) 498-2246,

Offers donation-based rides to health and wellness appointments in Calaveras County and beyond for those over 60, veterans and disabled adults unable to use traditional transit.

Calaveras Transit, (209) 754-4450,

Bus service countywide, also to Columbia College and twice daily to Stockton, $1.25 fare for riders 65 and over.

Volunteer Center of Calaveras County, (209) 754-1699,

Provides rides to older adults (medical appointments and more) and the disabled.

Tuolumne County

Tuolumne County Transit, (209) 532-0404,

Buses run six loops based in Sonora and East Sonora, Monday-Saturday, $1.50 for one-way trip,  50-cent discount for seniors 60 and older, and Medicare or disabled riders. Dial-a-Ride, $3 for seniors, veterans and disabled.

Trip Program, (209) 532-0404,

Rides for disabled, veterans and senior passengers unable to use other transit or transportation options; county subsidizes rides to medical appointments from outlying areas for 35 cents per mile; riders must arrange for driver and vehicle.

Wheels Program, (209) 962-6952,

Free rides for Groveland residents 60 and older, uses volunteer drivers in private vehicles; call one day in advance for Groveland area, one week for Sonora.

Senior Center, (209) 533-2622,

Weekday in-county rides only to medical and health appointments and essential errands; van with wheelchair capability, donation suggested.

Amador County

Amador Transit, (209) 267-9395,

Bus service operates from Sutter Hill Transit Center, passengers 62 and older, fixed-route fares vary from $1 to $3 depending upon zone, Sacramento-area service available. Dial-a-Ride, fare $2 for ADA-qualified.

Amador Rides, (209) 267-8142,

Free rides to medical appointments for those with no other option, uses volunteer drivers, out-of-county service available.

Common Ground Senior Services, (209) 223-3015,

Donation-based transportation for those over 60, with rides to medical appointments within and outside Amador County.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Kevin Sauls
By Kevin Sauls September 15, 2015 14:47
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