Taxi companies bid for credit contracts as aid agencies drop vouchers

Two Community Action Bus Line routes take off from the Washington County Courthouse Friday for loops throughout Marietta. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Vouchers for a free ride are on the way out for local aid agencies.

“We’ve switched to credit contracts with local taxi agencies,” said Flite Freimann, director of Washington County Job and Family Services. “Generally speaking most of the agencies do a bid and contract–we’re trying to get away from the voucher program because at the end of the day we can’t guarantee who is using those old vouchers for rides. At various times I know the municipal court and agencies like Life and Purpose have purchased some vouchers, too.”

But without the ability to track how vouchered rides were used, incidents like the overdose witnessed by Marietta Times Copy Editor Erin O’Neill last month could be compounded.

O’Neill found the man facedown on the sidewalk experiencing a suspected drug overdose. He said he was from Marietta and had been given a taxi voucher to a homeless shelter in Parkersburg.

“It’s entirely possible that voucher was given to the young man for a different reason, or when he wasn’t in crisis,” said Freimann. “But I’m not aware of any current program in our county where he would have just been given a cab ride to Latrobe Street. We have referred to Latrobe for those who are not in crisis and are asking for the location of the nearest homeless shelter, but usually, our community agencies would put you up at a local motel in the county first.”

Freimann said JFS utilizes a taxi contract, which is billed back to the agency monthly for non-emergency transport, but in crisis, clients would be taken to the nearest emergency department.

“We have funds set aside for that between the agencies like behavioral health, JFS, (Washington-Morgan) Community Action and our local partners like the Gospel Mission Food Pantry,” said Freimann.

Community Action Director David Brightbill confirmed his agency also utilizes a reduced price/cost assumption program for qualifying clients to gain free rides through the Community Action Bus Line.

“We don’t use any voucher system either,” he said.

But mobility in a predominately rural county is also the topic of consistent discussion for the Washington County Hub–formerly the Opioid Hub–as access to services for health, addiction and mental care are addressed by cross-county agencies and departments.

“We have a grant through (the Ohio Department of Transportation) we’re applying for to hire a full-time person to coordinate necessary transport,” said Freimann. “The number of trips in this county on any given day is staggering and getting a mobility manager to coordinate essentially ride shares, but ones that can follow the confidentiality requirements while sharing resources could maximize the volunteer drivers and paid drivers we have already making the trips between doctor’s offices, services, grocery and people’s homes.”

Freimann said the hope is for that mobility manager position to be in place in January.