Thursday, October 28, 2010
Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities representatives are concerned that a private company's reduction of vehicles means fewer options for disabled citizens who need transportation to doctor's appointments, grocery stores and other daily errands in the Jackson metro.
Mike Ford, chief financial officer of LeFleur Transportation, said that his company is reducing its local fleet by 15 vehicles, leaving five service vehicles in the area. Earlier this week, WLBT had reported that the company was temporarily ending all their services.
"We've made a decision to reallocate some vehicles from Mississippi to our operations in other states," said Ford.
The company owns a fleet of about 250 specialized vehicles in the South, and provides non-emergency medical trips for disabled and elderly citizens in addition to limousine services, airport transfers, corporate trips and other services.
Even though Ridgeland serves as its corporate headquarters, Ford said the company has actually experienced a drop in funding to provide local services in its home state.
"We provide service to private companies and individuals and public entities, such as state agencies, but local and state agency budgets are very thin, and that has been a big factor in a decrease we've seen in trip volume in the public sector," Ford said. "There's just not enough private work at this point, locally, to keep all our vehicles operating. We had to make that decision to move them into some other areas where business is stable and growing."
Jason Lee, project specialist for the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, said the coalition primarily refers disabled citizens to LeFleur because, unlike other providers, the company offers affordable prices for citizens who do not receive Medicaid. The cost of finding affordable transportation can be a challenge, he said.
"Disabled consumers typically have very limited money. For them there is no luxury money, and in this economy, transportation can fall into the luxury-money category, especially if it comes down to a choice between transportation or buying groceries and keeping your lights on," Lee said.
Jackson's disabled residents have the benefit of transportation services through JATRAN, but the coalition says residents living outside city limits will have few choices: Madison County Citizens Services Agency, a public agency in Canton; or private cab services.
"LeFleur Transportation is one of the few companies that would actually pick people up outside of the metro area, which is a big deal if you don't have access to JATRAN. We have consumers who live in Madison and Rankin County who use LeFleur extensively because they originate their rides outside of the Metro area," Lee said. "These people will be greatly impacted by this."
Ford assured the JFP that customers had other options: "There are other providers in the metro area that can handle these trips," he said. "We're not the only one."
But Lee also admitted that the remaining options are costly and unpredictable. "Unless they want to use a private cab company, there are not many options, and private cab companies are very expensive," he said. Lee also said that several service providers that take Medicaid payments primarily take citizens to doctor's appointments or other non-emergency medical destinations, while LeFleur provided more options for personal transportation.
Ridgeland resident Karen Powell, who is blind, said she relied on LeFleur to take her to the airport, along with several other wheelchair-bound citizens.
"It's going to be more wheelchair users than anyone that is going to be affected, but all of us who can not drive are going to be affected," she said. "LeFleur would take you anywhere--work, errands or anywhere--it was not just limited to medical."
Ford said the company would not be closing down, despite previous news reports.
"We are, in fact, laying off some people--but we're not closing our doors. We'll probably do a million trips next year in 2011. Our business is doing fine, but right here in this area we're not," Ford said, adding that the company is "waiting for new opportunities to bid on new contracts" with companies and state agencies next year.
Is it anything that is being added to Mississippi? It seems that everyday our communities are losing something. I am saddened by the reduction in transportation services for those who can not transport themselves. Being able to move around is the one task that allows the handicapped to become more handicapable.