Seniors, disabled in Lakeland get new transportation option

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2016

There’s a new transportation option for senior citizens and people with disabilities living in Lakeland.

  • Minibus equipped for wheelchairs provides transport for $2 each way
  • Buses pick up passengers from their homes
  • Want more information? Call 855-POLKBUS (855-765-5287)

Citrus Connection started a new service in November, where people with disabilities and the elderly living anywhere in Lakeland can get picked up in a minibus equipped for wheelchairs from their home and taken anywhere in the city on Saturdays for $2 each way.

During the week, the service can pick up passengers from their homes if they live within three-fourths of a mile from the bus line.

“What this does is expands it so that all of the citizens of Lakeland who are elderly and disabled can get where they need to go on Saturday," said Tom Phillips, Executive Director for Citrus Connection. "So it really removes the mobility barriers for anyone in Lakeland who are elderly or disabled."

By 2040, the county predicts its elderly population will increase by 114 percent to 231,000 people.

During a community forum Wednesday held by the Polk Transportation Planning Organization to address senior mobility, Elder Point Ministries, an area nonprofit that provides rides for seniors, talked about the need for more volunteer drivers to keep up with the growing senior population.

Faith in Action North Lakeland is another organization that focuses on providing transportation to seniors. Its volunteers and dedicated driver, Shirley Smith, provide rides to seniors living in northwest Lakeland for free.

“[Smith is] my angel on Earth,” said Faith in Action client Jackie Blanchard. “Whenever I need something, if it’s the doctor’s office or whatever, she’s there. And she doesn’t ask me why, she says when.”

Ph: Jackie Blanchard (left) and her "angel on Earth," Faith in Action driver Shirley Smith. (Stephanie Claytor, staff)

Jackie can't drive, and her son who cares for her doesn’t have a car. Ever since her daughter moved out of Lakeland, Jackie said she has depended on Faith in Action to get her around.

The non-profit’s Executive Director, Mildred McMillon, said there are many seniors in a similar situation.  

“We have over 16,000 seniors in this area, and most of them have two to three disabilities,” said McMillon.

McMillon started the non-profit in 2003. In 2015, it provided more than 4,736 rides.

She told us she could definitely use the community's help, with “more donations to take care of gas and the upkeep on the automobiles.”

For more information on Citrus Connection's new Paratransit service, call 855-POLKBUS (855-765-5287).

For more information on Faith in Action North Lakeland and their efforts to help with senior mobility, call (863) 686-0009, or visit them on Facebook.