Town compensates for Operation Wheels shut down

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    Warwick - In just two weeks, a 25-year staple for seniors in Warwick will come to an end. Operation Wheels will cease its bus service on July 31 due to financial troubles over the past few years. And while there are alternatives for seniors, Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton is trying to close the gap for those who have depended on the service for so many years. "We are confident that we can meet all the needs of the 23-25 people who regularly use the service, with one notable exception: as a municipality we would not be allowed by Orange County to duplicate service to Middletown," said Sweeton. The town's Dial-A-Bus system, which receives funding through Orange County, takes riders to various places within the town as well as locations in Goshen, where riders can transfer to the trolley and go to Middletown. A fixed route also brings riders to stores in Monroe. Because the trolley goes to Middletown, Sweeton explained, the county will not allow the town of Warwick to duplicate the service. "The county only allows municipalities to link to this bus, not duplicate it," Sweeton said. "Warwick does, however, provide door to door service for local shopping, doctor's visits, and trips to Monroe stores such as Wal-Mart, Kohl's Plaza, and Woodbury Commons every Wednesday." Earlier this month, The Warwick Advertiser reported that some Operation Wheels users are hesitant about taking Dial-A-Bus to meet the trolley in Goshen because of the need to transfer buses. Sweeton announced that a transit aide will be on board to help the transition go smoothly. "Starting on August 6th, we will add an additional Friday bus to increase our frequency of service to these (Monroe) locations," Sweeton said. "In all but a few cases, this can be done without changing buses, which is important for seniors. To make this transition smoother, we will put a transit aide on the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday buses to help our Operation Wheels passengers become comfortable with our service." Operation Wheels has been run through the Warwick Ecumenical Council strictly on donations and grants. The organization has experienced financial difficulties over the past few years, running the system at a loss. Various churches and businesses have bailed out the troubled system over the years, but with rising fuel and insurance costs, the losses would have been just too much. "It came to a point, we just couldn't handle it anymore," said Rev. Scott Eding, pastor of the Warwick Reformed Church and chairman of Operation Wheels. Sweeton is hoping that the additional day of service and the transit aide will fill the gap when Operation Wheels shuts its engine. "Our transportation personnel are available at 986-2877 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday to Friday, to answer any questions and to help Operation Wheels riders make an easy transition," Sweeton said. "The town will continue to improve our transportation service, as we have done the past three years, in an effort to meet the needs of our senior population. We understand how much some senior citizens have depended on Operations Wheels, and we will work hard to accommodate them."