A ride service for those 65-and-up has returned to a five-county area that includes Douglas County, and the program supervisor said customers are happy to hear it.

“They really loved the program and there’s a lot of excitement that it’s returning because there’s a lot of need,” said Brenda Larson, the Aging Well coordinator for West Central Minnesota Communities Action.

Called Ready Ride, the program depends on a state grant that expired in 2019, leaving elderly customers concerned about being able to get to their doctor’s appointments and run errands, she said. The ride service was not offered in 2020.

Senior advocacy groups have identified transportation as a key need for those 65-and-up to remain in their homes and communities in rural Minnesota.

Ready Ride is a unique low-cost ride service, as it picks passengers up at their door, brings them to their appointments or other destinations, waits for them, and then brings them home. Ready Ride will even bring them as far as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Larson said. If they need assistance walking, the driver can help.

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Originally started by Age Friendly Alexandria, Ready Ride was supported by West Central Minnesota Communities Action, said Dian Lopez, who helped Alexandria win an age-friendly designation from AARP and the World Health Organization in 2016. She now is a member of the Governor’s Council on an Age Friendly Minnesota.

“When they lost their funding, we could not keep it up," Lopez said. "Now, they have a new two-year program with funds that we have joined. So Age Friendly is working hard to help them advertise their program this year, and next year, we will work with them to make it a more permanent program."

West-Central Minnesota Communities Action received a $488,351 Live Well at Home grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, part of which covers Ready Ride, Larson said. Volunteer drivers donate their time, but get reimbursed for mileage. Riders also pay an annual fee of $25 if they are able to walk to and from the vehicle on their own, or $35 if they need help. They also pay a mileage fee based on their monthly income and household size.

Ready Ride is funded through June 2022. The other counties are Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse.

Larson said her agency trained the first six drivers last week and so far, three riders have signed up.

Like the passengers, drivers tend to be in a high-risk age group for COVID, as they are generally retirees who want to volunteer their time. To reduce the risk for both, passengers are encouraged to sit in the back seat, and drivers thoroughly clean the car between passengers, Larson said. Her agency provides drivers with cleaning supplies, masks and gloves.

To schedule a ride or to volunteer, call 218-685-7433 (RIDE) or visit wcmca.org/program/ready-ride for more information.