Remember when you tuned 16 and got your driver’s license? For me, it opened up my world and no request was beneath me when my mother directed me to drive to the store for something. Driving was the definition of freedom!

There will inevitably come a point in my life when I no longer should be driving. My mother made it to age 95, but she only drove during the day and took the back roads. According to the AAA, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to ten years. I imagine my mother fell into that category and thank goodness she never caused an accident.

Regardless of your age, if you couldn’t or didn’t drive, how would you get around? Would you have the resources to pay for a taxi or Uber? Some people depend on family or friends, but that can create a burden and a loss of freedom for both parties. Now, thanks to Community Thread’s collaboration with DARTS and some generous local sponsors, a bus service is coming to our community.

DARTS, a nonprofit organization serving seniors in Dakota County, received funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to provide bus service in Washington County as a pilot project in 2018. The annual cost to provide the service is $25,000, and DARTS directed $10,000 of their funding to our community’s bus loop. Community Thread approached local sponsors to raise the remaining $15,000 for a year of service.

The Community Thread Connector Loop will make a loop for 5 hours a day on Mondays starting October 22 from 10 am to 3 pm. It will offer scheduled stops at housing complexes and travel a fixed route to community service and retail destinations in Stillwater and Oak Park Heights. The bus seats 16 people, is handicapped accessible, and has a lift. There will be places on the bus to set bags and purchases.

A local community Advisory Committee recommended the best route to serve the most people, based on survey feedback from over 250 potential users. The $3 fare buys an all-day pass, allowing riders to get on and off at any of the stops along the loop which has scheduled times. While the service will primarily serve older adults, riders can be any age.

Community Thread spearheaded the fundraising for the community bus service as part of our mission to expand transportation options. The bus loop will not be replacing Community Thread’s transportation program, which provides rides to medical appointments only for older and disabled adults. Rather, the Community Thread Connector Loop will make it possible for people to get their errands done, visit a friend in the hospital, or just get out of the house – activities that keep people independent and aging well.

To learn more about the service and see the schedule, visit www.CommunityThreadmn.org. Printed schedules are available at Boutwells Landing, Community Thread, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, Lakeview Hospital, Oak Park Senior Living, Stillwater Area Chamber of Commerce and Stillwater Medical Group.

And please be sure to Join us for a Bus Loop Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Monday, October 22 at 9 am at Community Thread to thank the sponsors who made our community bus loop possible: Allina Health – Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, City of Oak Park Heights, Lakeview Hospital, United Way of Washington County-East, and Rotary Club of Stillwater, noon chapter. Our community bus service and the freedom it offers would not have happened without them.

By: Sally Anderson