BY JAMES FARRELL
A free car service for senior citizens in northeast Queens is returning in November, Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) announced on Monday.
The program offers senior citizens living in Vallone’s 19th City Council District free access to a private car service to travel to doctors’ appointments. The program debuted in May, but depleted its $40,000 in funding by June. Vallone has allocated $50,000 in funding from the City Council for a second run, and the program will resume on Nov. 13.
“The unaffordability and the unavailability for seniors to get where they need to go has always been the number one concern for seniors,” said Vallone, who is the chairman of the subcommittee for senior centers. “And in a district like here, that is transportation dependent and doesn’t have alternatives, providing a car service to and from your medical doctor, no matter where that medical visit is, was almost a lifesaving service that we brought to northeast Queens.”
The program is run by SelfHelp Community Services, a nonprofit that operates several senior centers throughout New York City. Appointments for the car service can be made by calling the SelfHelp Clearview Senior Center at (718) 224-7888. To schedule a ride, seniors should call the center between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. the day before their medical appointment. Seniors must call the center on Fridays to book for weekend appointments or for Monday appointments. While the program will resume on Nov. 13, seniors can make calls for appointments as of Nov. 10. The private car company Four Twos provides the rides.
The program is available to all seniors in the 19th Council District, which includes College Point, Bayside, Whitestone, north Flushing and Douglaston.
The initial run of the program allowed seniors to travel to the senior center and cultural institutions, but this time will only provide service to medical appointments. That, according to Vallone spokesman Lionel Morales, will help the program run for a longer period of time than the last time, when funding started to deplete in June and lasted a little less than two months.
Representatives from SelfHelp previously told the Queens Tribune that demand for the program has been very high. In July, Erin Brennan, senior program director at SelfHelp, said that she fielded between 30 and 50 calls a day for the program when it was in effect. That was, in part, due to the lack of public transit options in northeast Queens, which is often referred to as a “transportation desert.”
“People need to get to the doctor,” Brennan said on Monday. “They should not be foregoing doctor appointments just because of lack of transportation.”
There are no subway lines that go through northeast Queens. For seniors who aren’t driving, transportation is limited to bus service and the Long Island Railroad, and Access-A-Ride, which Vallone called “unaccessible” and inefficient.
“Out here in Bay Terrace, we have three bus lines,” said Community Board 7 member Warren Schreiber. “So, if I want, I can take any one of those bus lines, I can go to Flushing, I can go to Flushing and I can go to Flushing. That’s it.”
He added that Community Board 7 “would love to see” the program expanded to other parts of Queens.
Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) attended the announcement of the program’s refunding to praise the initiative.
“You have pioneered a program here, Paul, that we need to take citywide,” Levine said. “I think this is a great investment, an affordable investment that returns great benefits for our wonderful seniors.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.