How to do it... Transportation

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Find out what residents and family members actually want, advises Muriel Brunger, director of activities, transportation and fitness for Westminster Place, a continuing care retirement community in Evanston, IL.

“Our regular shuttle bus is almost like a city bus, taking people to the bank, shopping, the civic center and other places on a regular basis,” she says. “We're constantly evaluating what we're doing. There has been family input on this. We've also done focus groups.”

One of your best marketing tools can be trips for which you provide transportation. “One of the things we hear marketing people say all the time is there's nothing better than going to the symphony, opera and Shakespeare theater downtown (in nearby Chicago),” Brunger explains. “People love being dropped off and picked up at the door. It's sort of a selling point and certainly is a marketing benefit.”

Offering individualized services can only help market your facility, she adds. While there's no bill for Westminster's shuttle bus, the CCRC does charge for having a driver take an individual to specific medical appointments.

The charge helps cover the cost of a driver and vehicle, Brunger explained.

“Having individual transportation to a doctor's office for a test, or being able to provide that solo help for something like getting around inside a hospital is really helpful. And people are willing to pay for that,” she said.

Westminster also keeps a “go-to” list of people who drive for a living.

“We have some people who are personal-transport type drivers, so there is someone reliable if a family wants their loved one to go to an event [alone],” she says. “Whether it's a particular taxi driver or someone who has a car for their business, we always try to keep a list of people who can help.

While trying to provide individualized service, providers must also realize they should consolidate rides and routes so that vehicles are used as efficiently as possible. Many residents don't like to ride alone, especially if it's in a larger vehicle.

Establishing an on-site volunteer corps is also vital. Wheelchair pushers can be a great help moving many people to different parts of a building or campus.

“Transportation is a big reason why a lot of people don't try things,” Brunger observes. “People's worlds shrink if they can't get many places. We're hooking up people with one another.”

Equipment matters. What you use yo drive around town with can say more about your transportation program and offerings than could any word of mouth or any other traditional advertising campaign.

“Use new equipment in high-traffic areas,” recommends Bill Flynn, vice president of Atlantic Turtle Top, a vehicle vendor based in South Grafton, MA.

“Keep the bus clean, especially if you're advertising your facility,” he adds. “Nobody wants to live in a dirty place.”

First impressions really matter, Flynn adds: “New paint is always a way to make something look new — perception is reality,” he says.

He also recommends refurbishing existing interior equipment to create good attitudes among current and potential users.

Comfort, as always, is key. But something like 19-inch-wide “executive captain's-type” seating can really help, Flynn says.

Beyond your own offerings, charter companies must be chosen with care, Westminster's Brunger says.

“They have to pull up on the right side of the street, and the driver has to help at the door. You can't have people cross a street unnecessarily,”  she explains.

“Once we find a company, we usually stick with it,” she adds. “Then if we use them for the year, they give us a better deal.”

Mistakes to avoid

— Inflexibility with transportation offerings. What's needed or desired can change frequently

— Using hackneyed or uncomfortable equipment

— Not continually recruiting volunteer drivers and wheelchair pushers