With its pickleball courts and bingo tournaments, the Hastings Senior Center is a place for older adults to beat the heat and have fun during the summer months.
But without a car, getting there can be a challenge. Though a Transit Link bus is available, it requires advance scheduling. Rides sometimes drag on for two hours, leading some seniors to just stay home.
“We’ve literally had people stop coming to the center because it’s too inconvenient to take that bus,” said Laurie Thrush, director of the Hastings Senior Center.
But starting in September, Hastings residents will have another option. A new bus service will give seniors and residents without vehicles rides to popular destinations like the grocery store, library or the doctor’s office one day a week.
The yet-unnamed service, operated by West St. Paul nonprofit DARTS, is funded by a St. Paul Foundation grant and $10,000 from the city, but organizers are still seeking additional start-up money.
Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks and DARTS decided to collaborate on a transportation service more than a year ago to meet the growing need, said City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee.
“We’re all going to be facing the challenge of aging demographics and a reliance on cars,” Lee said.
But Hastings’ residents are older than average and the city sits on the far edge of the metro area, making getting around harder.
“[The service] is important if people want to maintain independence and be able to remain active,” Lee said.
DARTS, a Dakota County agency aimed at helping seniors and their caregivers, already provides similar services in West St. Paul and Burnsville, with buses following a route with stops at clinics, parks, a bank and stores such as Wal-Mart.
The project is part of a renewed focus on transportation for DARTS. The nonprofit’s leaders spent last year rethinking priorities after losing in 2014 two multimillion-dollar Metropolitan Council transportation contracts — providing Metro Mobility and Transit Link buses — due to accusations of falsified records and unmaintained buses.
The transportation landscape is changing fast with choices like Uber, said DARTS President Ann Bailey, but moving groups from point A to point B remains one of DARTS’ specialties.
“It seems like our sweet spot and our history and reputation is that [we] move 10 people at a time, not move people one person at a time,” Bailey said.
The bus service will run every Tuesday, making regular stops along a 30-minute route, including several apartment complexes. The cost will be between $3 and $5, and riders can get on and off without having to pay again.
Lee said she’s confident the route will start in September, though there’s still $6,500 left to raise. The service still needs a name, which may produce another sponsor, Lee said.
The Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library, a Hastings group, just kicked in $500, Lee said.
Organizers want the service to be simple to use, said Bailey, since transportation options can be confusing.
Seniors now have Transit Link, a bus service provided by Metro Transit, which requires calling a week ahead to reserve a spot and is intended to connect riders with another form of transportation. There’s also Smart Ride, a cab service with a $7 fare for in-town stops.
Metro Mobility isn’t available in Hastings, and there’s no door-to-door service with handicapped accessibility, said Courtney Whited, DARTS transportation director.
Lois Johnson, who frequents the senior center, said she relies on friends for a lift but would love a bus ride to the beauty shop, Cub Foods and the doctor at a reasonable price.
“People don’t want to rely on their families to go to the grocery store, to go pick up their medicine,” Thrush said. “They want to feel independent, they want to be able to do those things.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled Aug. 26 at the annual “50 and Beyond” Expo at the Tilden Community Center in Hastings, where the senior center is located.