Several times a week, Simi Valley resident Bethel Scott phones the city's Dial-A-Ride bus service to arrange rides to the doctor and the market.
Scott, 85, has learned to plan ahead because sometimes no bus is available when she needs to get to an appointment. And she never makes plans to go out on the weekends because the door-to-door bus service only operates Monday through Friday.
"Dial-A-Ride is a lifesaver, but you do have to do a lot of planning ahead," Scott said. "When you get to be my age, it's not so easy to get around."
Getting around may soon get easier.
In coming months, a series of improvements will be phased in to Simi Valley's Dial-A-Ride program, a door-to-door bus service catering to the city's senior citizens and disabled residents.
Responding to new federal regulations and complaints from residents who said the city's Dial-A-Ride bus service is too hard to use, the city has streamlined the service to make it easier to get appointments and be picked up more quickly.
Starting today, residents may make an appointment by calling Simi Valley Transit directly, rather than calling a volunteer at the senior center and waiting several days to find out if a bus is available at the desired hour.
In August, Saturday service will be added to the program. And in October, a third wheelchair-accessible bus will be added to the city's Dial-A-Ride fleet.
Both the Saturday service and the new bus are required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Transportation Manager Rap Turpin said. The law requires cities and businesses to make services readily available to disabled residents.
The change in the appointment procedure is being made because the City Council agreed to pay for an additional staff person at the transit office to handle scheduling.
"These changes will really be a benefit for the riders," Turpin said. "It will make the service more accessible."
A group of riders boarding the Dial-A-Ride bus at Simi Valley's Senior Center last week agreed.
"It will be nice to know right away whether they are going to be able to pick you up, rather than having to wait for somebody to call you back," said Ethan Parks, 78. "It will be a real improvement."
Gertrude Smith, 82, said she welcomed any services added to the Dial-A-Ride program.
"I don't drive, so I really rely on the bus to go places," Smith said. "Having a bus on Saturday will be wonderful. I can't wait."
Councilman Bill Davis said he is sure the improved services will benefit senior citizens and disabled residents, but he fears that the additional costs may increase fares.
Dial-A-Ride passengers are now asked to pay an optional 75-cent fare.
"Most of these changes are required by law, so we don't have a choice," Davis said. "But we'll have to see if the Saturday service brings in enough new riders to pay for the increased cost."
Even without Saturday buses, Turpin said, ridership over the past two years has increased steadily.
In the fiscal year that ended in June, 1993, the service carried 11,028 passengers. Ridership rose more than 5%, to 11,617 passengers, in the fiscal year that ended last month.
"We're seeing more and more people using the service," Turpin said. "With the improvements, the number should continue to go up."