Access to a ride is as simple as a phone call at least one day before it's needed. However, callers shouldn't be confused if the van dispatcher answers the phone saying, "Senior Citizens." The two services are parts of the same organization.
"I know it's confusing, but we started out as senior citizens and they added this service," says Frances Murdock, director of both services provided here. "We could have an additional listing" in the phone book, she said Thursday, planning to investigate how to make the change.
"It's operated under the Senior Citizens Center throughout the South Central Tennessee Development District in Columbia," Murdock said. "The idea of the development district was to develop the area and provide services to rural areas."
That district group is among hundreds of non-profit social service agencies that were created under the Great Society program developed when Lyndon Johnson was president. It was to let local area leaders decide what services they needed and then have private groups contract with the government to provide the service. Head Start is another example.
With deep roots in the American social service system, the vans have increased in number and are largely used for doctor trips and such for people who can't drive, although the vans could be used by people who have no license.
Just three weeks ago, Janis Alderson needed to go to her doctor's clinic on West Commerce Street. Her granddaughter, Deana McFarland, was considered her escort for the ride from their rural Marshall County home into Lewisburg. As a result, their trip cost a total of $4.
Within the senior Citizens Center budget, nearly $338,857 was appropriated for transportation, Murdock said. More than 1,000 people ride the vans.
"When I started here in 2000, they had four vans and four drivers," she said. "Then we didn't provide services out of the county."
Now, with 12 vans, she agrees: "A lot of times there is just one passenger in the van, but it varies and a lot of times we have a van pick up 4-6 people in the morning... go to the industrial park and take them home."
She agreed that could be likened to an airport shuttle service.
Smaller vans were being purchased recently, she said, but they're not capable of having a wheelchair lift. Smaller vans do use less fuel.
"Nearly half the riders are senior citizens who are going to the doctors, to the bank, the grocery or just going on errands," Murdock said. "The next largest group is just those adults who are going to the doctor."
Some riders do use the van service as a way to get to and from work.
"I would say that's the next largest group," she said.
Jerry Stewart was the driver when Alderson of Anes Station went to the clinic. He recalls a time when a passenger was taken to Columbia and on the way back to Lewisburg, she suffered a malady that prompted him to turn around and go directly to Maury Regional Medical Center. He stayed with her until he knew she'd be all right.
Seeing eye dogs have also been riders on public transportation vans. They ride at no charge.