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Borough seniors ask Council for more transport money

Operating just one van for a year can cost more than $45,000 Ð money that as of now is dependent on discretionary funding, said Pat Dolan, director of Queens Connection, which coordinates van service for seniors. And, according to Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), many perfectly good vans are garaged due to skyrocketing fuel costs and insurance premiums. "To talk about mass transit in this city without taking in the needs of our seniors would be absurd," Liu said at last week's summit.Liu, who chairs the Council's Transportation Committee, promised the seniors that the $5 million funding, or "something like that," would be part of the Council's budget negotiation process, which is happening right now. "I think it's singularly the most important issue for our seniors," said Borough President Helen Marshall, who suggested there should be blanket insurance for the vans. Linda Leest, executive director at SNAP, an umbrella group for several borough senior centers,, said she pays $53,700 in insurance this year for four vans Ð a hefty hike from the $36,000 she was paying for six vans three years ago. Such high premiums, coupled with the steep gas costs due to constant stop-and-go routes, make operating those four vans almost unaffordable, Leest said. "It is a rare day when we can use all our vans," she said. But just as the operating costs go up, so do the number of seniors who depend on the vans to bring them meals and take them to senior centers and hospital appointments. Leest said that in 25 years of service this is the first time SNAP has had a transportation and food delivery waiting list. "Now we have say, "I'm sorry I can't take you to the doctor on Tuesday, can you wait until next Tuesday?" Leest said. "We need to be able to use these vans," she continued. "It prevents isolation and institutionalization because people have access." Mary Maguire, of Ozone Park, spoke as an example of a wheelchair-bound senior who was sometimes stuck at home alone for four to five weeks at a time when a van was not available to take her to the Southwest Queens Woodhaven senior center. "If you people could help us, we do appreciate it," she said. "Maybe we can get out more often."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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