EARL Public Transit seeks riders, drivers; has much to offer for those with local transportation needs
by Lissa Blake
Public transit really is for everyone.
And with Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation’s (NEICAC) EARL public transit program, it’s never been easier for northeast Iowans to get where they’re going. That’s according to Sam Castro, mobility manager for EARL Public Transit.
“This service really is for anyone to use,” said Castro of the program, which has regular routes in eight towns in five northeast Iowa counties, including Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek.
EARL stands for Easy, Affordable, Reliable and Life-changing, and the transportation system operates in Cresco, Decorah, Oelwein, Waukon, Guttenberg, West Union, Elkader and Monona. Castro said riders typically use the service to go to the grocery store, senior meal sites, hair appointments and more.
All vehicles are fully accessible and are equipped with either ramps or lifts. Some even have bike racks.
“I just did a tour of northeast Iowa hair salons to try to get older people in the habit of using our service for their weekly appointments,” said Castro. The cost of a one-way, in-town trip is just $2, and EARL drivers will travel between towns for an additional fee.
“We’ve had people use our service to go between towns for medical appointments or the airport in Rochester or the Twin Cities,” said Castro.
During scheduling, EARL dispatchers line up a vehicle from the fleet that can accommodate the passenger’s specific mobility needs.
Judy Adam of Waukon is anticipating knee replacement surgery in her future and currently uses a walker to aid her mobility, with the lifts available on the EARL Transit vehicles a big help to her. She expects to continue to use the transportation service after her surgery as well to take her to her physical therapy and other medical appointments.
To ensure availability of a ride, users are asked to call EARL at least 24 hours in advance. But Castro said there definitely are exceptions, and those who find themselves in need of a ride are encouraged to call.
“We do some same-day scheduling, and we encourage people to try us, even on short notice,” he said, adding drivers help riders to the door and riders requiring assistance can have a companion travel with them for no charge.
A NEEDED SERVICE
Steve Paul of Waukon is a retired teacher from the Allamakee Community School District, where he taught Driver's Education, Government and History. He has been driving the transit bus for the past 10 years, behind the wheel three years ago when NEICAC Transit changed its name to EARL Transit.
"This service is very much needed and very well used," Paul explained. "It is surprising how many people are unable to drive due to physical or developmental disability or who lost their license due to age. If we did not have this service in town, I am not sure what many of these people would do. How would they get to the doctor, grocery store, Shopko, Dollar General and the pharmacy? The clients very much appreciate this service."
Castro said EARL employs 44 full- and part-time drivers, but always is in need of more. “We need drivers who can work 15-30 hours a week,” said Castro, adding the job is flexible, family friendly and perfect for retirees who’d still like to work.
He said EARL drivers and riders often develop a relationship and really get to know each other. “They get to have a sense of community that maybe you can’t quite replicate anywhere else. All of our drivers are really caring people who get to know their riders. They’re kind-hearted and willing to help,” said Castro.
Drivers need to be able to procure a Class C CDL (commercial drivers license) with a passenger endorsement. They can apply for that on their own through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Before the driving portion of the test, drivers will receive paid training on an EARL vehicle and use one to take the driver’s test.
“When you go to take your driver’s test, you take it on our bus. That way, you’re familiar with it and how to use all of the equipment,” said Castro.
Castro said he currently is traveling throughout the five-county area in an order to grow EARL’s rider and driver bases. In an effort to get EARL’s name out there, EARL has sponsored a number of events over the past year, including a “Pooch Scooch 5K,” which benefited both the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa and EARL, a “Stuff the Bus” food pantry fundraiser, as well as a Nordic Fest shuttle.
“We also did a Leprechaun Loop during St. Patrick’s Day in Waukon, offering 525 safe rides to the pubs in Waukon. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Castro. (See the St. Patrick's Day information about the Leprechaun Loop and other events scheduled in Waukon on the Front Page of this week's issue of The Standard)
EARL service is open to the general public, including persons with disabilities. No person shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to, discrimination per Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended.
To schedule a ride, call 563-382-4259 or, toll free, 866-382-4259. Visit neicac.org/transit or find EARL public transit on Facebook for more information online.