New call center helps Rapp seniors find transportation
By Jeff Say
Need a ride? Foothills Area Mobility Systems can help.
Nestled inside the Culpeper Senior Center, FAMS held a ribbon cutting March 30, though they’ve been in operation since October.
Part of a joint venture between Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services, Rappahannock Rapidan Commuter Services, Aging Together and other non-profits, FAMS is a call center that will help residents of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties find transportation.
According to Jenny Biche, Mobility Manager for RRRC, it’s the first of its kind in Virginia and in a rural area, as far she’s aware.
“We’re kind of unique and hopefully we will be a model for others to follow,” Biche said.
Originally conceived in 2007, FAMS took years of research to culminate.
“It’s partially because of the data we were working with in 2007 which was predominantly census data,” Patrick Mouney, Executive Director of RRRC, said. “It was a little bit outdated, but it gave us a baseline. What we’ve seen with the development of the one-call center and the partnerships we have, is we can match that data with the outreach and the people calling in.”
How does it work?
Mary Honeycutt, FAMS Mobility Specialist, is on the ready from Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to help residents hitch a ride to their doctor appointments, haircuts or even just to get groceries.
“What we had found was that everybody, at some point needs transportation or knows someone who needs transportation,” Biche said. “It was hard to identify who to call to find out where the bus stops are, what the schedule is. If you wanted a taxi cab, a lot of them were only around six months to a year. There was a high turnover in taxi cabs. People were really frustrated trying to find help.”
“We are the experts of all transportation needs,” Honeycutt said with a laugh.
Along with two part-time employees, Hallie Holland and Wendy Oien, Honeycutt handles about 200 calls a month on average to the number: (540) 829-5300.
Their job is to alert callers to transportation solutions and then to help connect them to that source. Sometimes that includes them scheduling a ride, while other times Honeycutt said that callers are more self-sufficient.
While the service is open to everyone, the primary goal is to help the elderly, disabled and veterans.
“Most seniors do call us, but we’re trying to get the word out,” Honeycutt said. “As we go out and canvass the area and do outreach we discover more needs and we discover unmet needs. Hopefully year after year we will get more systems put into place to help those who need it.”
Honeycutt has been traveling around the five-county region providing information on FAMS, so residents know they can call for help. Organizations like Aging Together, Healthy Culpeper and Healthy Orange have hosted public information meetings on FAMS and others, like the Free Clinic, provide a list of clients that need transportation.
Virginia Regional Transit started an Orange to Culpeper route that began because of discussions held concerning the data gathered.
“That’s what the FAMS collaboration is really about,” Mouney said. “It’s about finding the gaps and how we can best fill those.”
Honeycutt and her staff also work with local businesses to educate employees about how to use public transportation.
“We contact businesses individually and ask if we can present to them,” Honeycutt said. “We canvass a lot. We’re really out on the road a lot, going to all five counties.”
While the theory of a call center may seem old-fashioned, Honeycutt said that many of the users don’t have access to Internet or own a computer. For those that do, she directs them to www.fams.org, which has a full list and map of the modes of transportation available.
A true partnership
According to Brian Duncan, executive director of RRCS, FAMS came to be through a variety of funding options. He said it’s primarily funded through the state but starts at the federal level and flows through the regional commission.
A grant through Veterans Affairs helped at the start, as $120,000 was provided to RRCS during the renovation of the Senior Center for the technology used in the call center.
“What we’ve seen is an uptick in the calls coming into the call center,” Duncan said.
“It has affected the Virginia Regional Transit because a lot of people weren’t aware of the routes before,” Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt also pointed out that she and her co-workers will do travel training with residents when requested. That consists of a FAMS employee riding public transportation with a resident for the first time, to help them feel comfortable.
Duncan said that residents who already utilize RRCS are usually covered for their appointments, but FAMS helps in other areas.
“Our services are for the most part for the individuals in our program so it’s already being utilized,” Duncan said. “Where the call center has helped is educating people about other transportation options.
“The call center is like a transportation concierge service,” Duncan said.
Want to know more?
Call: Contact FAMS One-Call Center at (540) 829-5300 to discover your transportation options