GATRA Dial-A-Ride Service Is Available to Bellingham Residents
Feb 04, 2020 11:12AM
By Pamela Johnson
Van driver Carl Malo offers a warm welcome to riders
Each month, the 13 Dial-A-Ride drivers at the Senior Center provide more than 1,000 trips for Bellingham’s seniors and the disabled. “I enjoy helping others,” reported three-year driver Mike McAlduff. Bob Dubois, who has been driving less than two years, added, “I enjoy being around people.”
Dial-A-Ride is a service provided by the Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority (GATRA), and it is available in 28 area cities and towns, including Bellingham. It’s paid for by the Commonwealth with help from the towns and donations. You’ve probably seen the vans around town and perhaps even taken advantage of this free mobility service that operates Monday through Friday, 8am—4pm.
Dial-A-Ride drivers are trained in vehicle operation, customer assistance, CPR, first aid, and sensitivity; they are not required to handle packages or equipment. And although the ride is free, they will gratefully accept donations, which will go into a fund to help defray the overall cost of the service.
“Driving is a great part-time job,” explained Ed Nugent. “I retired about seven years ago, and after two years of hanging around the house, I decided to go back to work.”
Helping to keep all the drivers going to the right places, and picking up the right people, are Linda Drohan and Leo Dalpe. Both work at the Senior Center and coordinate calls in order to connect people who want a ride with those who can provide it.
“We get dozens of calls every day,” said Linda, who relays information directly to the drivers. “Most callers want to be taken to a doctor’s appointment, food shopping, or to visit a friend at an assisted-living center.” Rides are free within a 10-mile radius of Bellingham; longer distances require payment and two weeks’ notice. Local rides should be reserved a day in advance.
Linda started in 2005 when she answered an ad for a receptionist at the Senior Center. Leo, who was approaching retirement as athletic director at Bellingham High, looked into becoming a driver. He drove for a while and then came inside to help Linda, and now handles dispatching two days a week.
“The most important reason that I drive,” reported Carl Malo, “is that I feel good about being able to help seniors and special-needs people to get out of their homes and apartments and be able to get to stores and doctor’s appointments. Without us, they would be stuck inside and not have much, if any, support.”
“I love seeing them smile and joke and laugh. I know that 90% of them really appreciate what we do for them. And that,” added Carl, “is a great feeling.” Carl has been driving for about two and a half years; he took the job “to give me something to do and earn a little extra money.”
Sometimes funny stuff happens on the bus rides. Paul Haggstrom, who has been driving for nearly 10 years, tells the story of a rider “who tried to start her own business on the bus, selling eggs and fish.” He calmly and politely put an end to that entrepreneurial effort.
GATRA also offers a commuter shuttle service from half a dozen locations in Bellingham to the MBTA’s Forge Park in Franklin. Anyone can ride for a small fare, but charges are even lower for seniors and disabled riders. Weekday shuttles leave before 6 am and return before 8 pm.
More information about Dial-A-Ride and the commuter shuttle is available from the Senior Center by calling 508-657-2709 (you may even get to speak with Linda or Leo). You can also visit www.gatra.org.