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A woman boards a County Connection bus at the Concord BART station in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. Because she is a senior citizen she will be allowed to ride the bus for free. County Connection has established a promotional free ride program for seniors and disabled riders from 10am to 2pm. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

Each Friday, Colette O'Keefe boards the bus in downtown Concord and makes her way to a plot of land where she volunteers her time feeding feral felines as part of a local trap, neuter and release group.

She and her 8-year-old tuxedo cat Christian, with his myriad health problems, rely on County Connection to get to frequent veterinary appointments.

Since 2004, the retired Concord resident's vision challenges have precluded her from driving.

So, public transportation is the means to grocery shop or grab a bite to eat at the Park 'N' Shop, to catch a movie in Walnut Creek, or to make the two-hour trek each way to attend meetings as a volunteer mental health commissioner in Martinez.

And, earlier this year, O'Keefe was quite pleasantly surprised when she boarded a bus and handed the driver her punch card. He kindly refused to accept it, explaining that County Connection had reinstated its daily, midday free ride program for seniors and the disabled.

"It's such a blessing," said O'Keefe in her Irish brogue.

The news is catching on, as ridership in January was up by 13 percent from a year ago, according to Anne Muzzini, director of planning.

"County Connection is responding to a need in our community for reliable transportation options for the elderly and persons with disabilities," Walnut Creek City Councilman and County Connections board chairman Bob Simmons said in a news release, noting how that demographic is often living on a fixed income.


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The program was designed several years ago to increase senior ridership as there had been an uptick in its paratransit demand, at twice the cost of the fixed-route fare, explained Mary Burdick, manager of marketing and customer service.

The midday program, along with implementing a requisite 25 percent cut in service and increased fares, was eliminated in 2009 during the recession, when "we needed every penny," said Burdick.

Prior to its discontinuance, O'Keefe had relied on the midday free transportation.

"A dollar fifty round trip doesn't sound like much, but if you're broke?" she says of her own fiscal constraints living on a pension and Social Security.

"It was a godsend," she adds.

Witnessing an increase in sales tax revenue, the County Connection's board of directors opted to bring the program back, subject to review in six months, at a $70,000 price tag, as a more cost-effective means of $7.30 per passenger transport than the $31 per person cost to run the door-to-door LINK service van, noted Muzzini.

"The more we have seniors using the fixed-route bus and maintaining their independence, the better," she said.

Free Rides
County Connection is offering through June a free ride program for seniors and the disabled from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Those riders need to show bus operators proof of eligibility such as a photo ID showing a birth date of 65 years or older; a senior Clipper card; an RTC discount card; DMV placard registration receipt; a Medicare card; or a Veteran disability card. For more information, visit www.countyconnection.com, or call 925-676-7500.