by HANNAH BROADBENT
According to Watertown Mayor Steve Washburn, Watertown doesn’t have any transportation systems.
“No transportation options whatsoever,” he said.
That fact, is about to change.
WeCAB, a volunteer based, non-profit transportation service will soon be available in Watertown.
According to their website, “WeCAB is a network of volunteers whose mission is to provide safe, affordable and flexible supplemental transportation.”
The service says they are available for medical visits, shopping local businesses (groceries/food shelves), errands, community services(volunteering/social events) and access to Metro Transit.
“WeCAB is people helping people, neighbors helping neighbors,” said WeCAB volunteer and Carver County organizer Mary Hershberger Thun.
WeCAB is now available in Carver County but Hershberger has been working with the city of Watertown for the last six months to bring it there. Hershberger said it started when Mayor Washburn called and expressed his interest in the service.
Washburn said he and the Commission on Aging had been talking about the need for a service for a couple of years now.
“WeCAB stood out because it was a neighbor helping neighbor service,” he said.
He said the “common grassroots effort” is what makes it special.
At the beginning of May an informational meeting was held at City Hall. Community leaders invited by the Mayor and City Administrator Shane Fineran came to hear a presentation by WeCAB. Washburn and
Hershberger said the turnout was something neither of them expected, with almost two dozen citizens attending.
“People we hadn’t even invited came,” Washburn said. “It makes you feel good, like you’re on the right track.”
Washburn said a few issues came to the forefront a few years ago for him in Watertown, but he decided transit was the first thing that needed to be addressed.
“We’ve been watching the demographic change for some time now,” he said. “It’s [transportation] been an ongoing issue.”
WeCAB serves ages 18 and over, but according to Hershberger, the average age of rider is 50 to 70 years old.
Washburn says having this service available will be good for local businesses. He said everyone having the ability to get where they need to go, pharmacies, grocery store etc, “the little things” make the difference.
Hershberger said they serve people who for one reason or another are unable to drive themselves or get a ride from family or friends.
“People that, for whatever reason, transportation doesn’t work for them,” she said. “But riders must be mobile, we’re not really setup for wheelchairs.”
“That’s something we have to work with, with more traditional drivers,” Washburn said.
According to Hershberger WeCAB is partnered with SouthWest Transit, so they do often suggest SouthWest when they can.
“We’re very personal drivers,” she said.
Hershberger said that riders can go as far as a driver is willing to go. Hershberger is a driver as well. She says since 2014, when the company began, 24 thousand miles have been driven total with the same number of volunteer hours.
“It proves to me WeCAB is a really needed service,” she said.
According to Hershberger every driver goes through a background and driving record check.
Calls to request rides are taken Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Rides are given at anytime as long as a driver is available.
Washburn says that is why getting volunteers is so important. Watertown is partnering with Mayer, which will help increase the volunteer pool he said. Hershberger said on any given month they have 15 to 20 drivers available right now in Carver County.
Washburn said the next step is to form an advisory council, then to create and action plan and come up with drivers. He feels optimistic due to the interest and willingness showed by community members at the meeting.
The city’s goal is to create the advisory council, after that Washburn says their role is to participate in fundraisers for WeCAB and explain the need. He said he sees Rails to Trails as being a strong point to start spreading the word.
“[We] will continue being that champion and advisor,” he said.
Washburn says he hopes in the next 60 to 90 days WeCAB will be running in Watertown.
Go to wecab.org for more information or call 1-844-743-3932.