John Breaux drives circles in Payson for 28 hours each week. “I go home and I’m dizzy,” he said, laughing, the sleigh bells affixed to the bus’ ceiling ringing. He pulled into Walmart’s parking lot for the second time Tuesday, before heading to Bashas’, also for the second time.
“Any given day, I can come to Walmart 10 or 12 times,” he said.
For two years, Breaux has driven Payson seniors to the grocery store, the bank, to Walmart — “the store in town” — on the senior center’s bus.
“Sometimes I’ll just get home and say ‘Boy, I’m beat.’ But it’s a good beat,” Breaux said.
The bus helps seniors maintain their independence.
Rayoleen Taylor, 90, said she stopped driving two or three years ago. “That’s the hardest part,” she said about relinquishing her wheels. “I have to depend on a driver,” though she said of Breaux, “this is my favorite driver.” (The senior center has two transit bus drivers.)
Taylor, who rides the bus roughly once every three weeks, headed to the bank and then to Bashas’ for stamps.
Monthly ridership varies, but 455 people rode the bus in November. “A lot of those people do multiple trips,” said Reed Cox, the executive director of the Payson Senior Center. Most months, anywhere from 400 to 600 people ride the bus.
Cox said fuel prices don’t affect the number of riders since most of the clientele don’t own cars.
The buses will travel anywhere in Payson, and they also drive to Star Valley weekly.
“Most places they go to are doctor appointments, shopping, the bank,” Cox said. “Once in a while we take someone to the casino.”
Marva Smith, 78, also takes the bus infrequently, but “I couldn’t do without it,” she said.
“The best way is when I don’t have to go straight home.”
“She’s one of the ones that like to ride around,” Breaux said. Later he explained, “They use the excuse of shopping but it’s mainly to get out of the house.”
Payson seniors call and reserve a bus time two or three days in advance. Breaux drops each person off, and they call the senior center for pick-up.
Rondee Dalgleish answers the phone at the senior center and then pages the bus driver — “I need an ETA (estimated time of arrival) for Karline.”
Donations are requested — $3 one way, $4 for one stop, round trip — although Breaux doesn’t refuse riders for lack of funds. He says the majority of riders are in their 80s or 90s.
“They don’t give up,” Breaux said. “Some of them can barely get up the steps, but they still go for it.” Breaux helps passengers with their bags, or up the stairs. The bus’ back has space for a wheelchair.
“I call them my LOPs,” Breaux joked. “Little old people.” He added, “I’ll tease them and stuff and they think it’s great.”
Karline Warwick, 72, boarded the bus at Walmart. “I meet a lot of nice people,” she said, “and the drivers are wonderful.” Warwick had collapsed in November and Tuesday’s trip was her first foray back out into the world.
How does it feel? “Whoo-hoo,” she exclaimed.
“She is a frequent flyer,” Breaux said.
“My daughter works long, hard hours,” Warwick said, “so the senior bus gives me a lot of freedom.”
County supervisors recently approved providing the senior center with $10,000 in state transportation funds to help run the program.
Cox has also requested an allotment of the funds — called the Local Transportation Assistance Fund — from Payson, although he hasn’t received an answer yet.
Cox said he was unsure how much the buses cost to operate, however, documents submitted to the town of Payson in January 2007 showed annual transportation costs of roughly $75,000 for paying drivers, maintaining vehicles and purchasing gasoline among other things.
Besides the two transit drivers, four drivers distribute food through the Meals on Wheels program.
The senior center is always looking for donations to maintain its services.
“Funding for all our programs is something I think about every day,” Cox said.