Rides for Ridgefield back on the road after COVID suspended service

RIDGEFIELD — Fully vaccinated residents who need help getting around no longer have to rely on relatives or caretakers to get to their destination.

Rides for Ridgefield resumed services this month after more than a year of being off the road. The town requested the organization temporarily suspend services last March to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Since February 2014, the group has conducted more than 6,000 rides and driven 70,000 miles with the help of 40 volunteers chauffeuring hundreds of riders, according to founder Margaret Thompson. It was established to help older adults and individuals with mobility restrictions get around after Thompson said government-supported and privately run transportation services were not meeting their needs.

“We provided rides wherever people needed to go,” she said. “It’s wonderful that we’re back up and running, and the riders certainly appreciate it.”

The organization is only offering fully vaccinated residents rides to medical appointments for now. It is not asking riders for proof of vaccination, however.

According to call center manager Nancy Brandon, 50 to 60 percent of the rides it fulfilled pre-pandemic were related to medical appointments.

“(That) has always been more than the majority of our rides,” executive committee member David Smith said. “Once we know we can handle it, we may move to open up for shopping, entertainment, the library, you name it.”

In certain cases, drivers will also provide a ride to someone who needs to get their COVID-19 shot. Earlier in the spring, four of the group’s fully vaccinated drivers began taking requests from non-vaccinated residents so they could get to their vaccine appointments.

To keep riders and drivers safe as services resume, the group is following CDC guidance for ride-share programs as well as Federal Transit Administration requirements for transport providers.

For each ride, drivers conduct a screening checklist that the riders sign when they are picked up. The driver and passenger are required to wear masks. Passengers are also asked to sit in the right rear seat of the vehicle to provide as much distance as possible.

Vents or windows may be open to provide air flow during the drive, and riders are asked to notify the call center if they develop symptoms after the ride.

As the group gets rolling again, Brandon said past riders are “ecstatic” that services have resumed. “Every third message I get is someone saying ‘we’re so happy you’re back,’” she said.

Perhaps more important than the service are the people needed to maintain it. Before the pandemic, Rides had a fleet of 29 drivers who dropped by nearly half over the past year. Smith said the group is also seeking new board members to “step up and take leadership.”

“I want the thing to survive and keep viable for as many years as we can go,” he said. “Being a caregiver or transporter can be a burden on people, and we’re here to take care of that.”

Rides is taking requests from fully vaccinated residents weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To request a ride or inquire about volunteering or joining the board, call 203-894-7433.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com