Next year, a multibillion-dollar transportation referendum will go before voters in 10 metro Atlanta counties. So far, the hotly debated items on the project list involve improvements in rail, road and bus service.
But also on the list — though drawing considerably less media attention — is a $17 million call center to help seniors and people with disabilities get around more easily.
The basic idea is a one-stop-shop to help people plan their trips when they have few if any transportation options.
The center would help callers with scheduling, dispatching and trip booking, helping to ease travel for hundreds of thousands of people. Call center workers could arrange the transportation or connect the caller with options such as mass transit, voucher programs or volunteer rides.
Janie Walker, an associate state director of AARP Georgia, said Thursday that 80 percent of the calls that the center takes would probably be related to medical appointments.
An Atlanta Regional Commission official says the center would build on current transportation initiatives, and would also focus on low-income residents.
A major goal is making the call center system computerized, adds Laura Keyes, community development manager for ARC’s Aging Services Division.
Metro Atlanta’s current transportation set-up makes it hard to get from one county to another, especially for many older people and people with disabilities.
Atlanta tops the list among large metropolitan areas in having the least access for seniors to public transportation services, a recent study found, as reported by the Marietta Daily Journal.
While Cobb County may have transportation options for seniors, AARP’s Walker says, another county may not provide any program for older people.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities said in a statement that many people with disabilities are unable to drive to work, to go shopping, to visit friends or to get to medical appointments.
“The mobility call center would enable an individual to call one number, explain where they have to go, when, for what purpose, including recreational, and the person on the other end would construct their route, and tell them the cost, if any,’’ the statement said.
The project description for the call center estimates that it would serve 200,000 people in its first year, and when fully operational, would schedule more than 400,000 trips a year.
Vouchers would be available for about 12,000 one-way trips per year to medical appointments and other services, according to the project description, which added that the cost per trip would be lower than current paratransit services.
Other urban areas have such “mobility management’’ systems, ARC’s Keyes says.
Metro Atlanta mayors and county commissioners recently finalized the $6.1 billion transportation project list, which will be up for voter approval next July. It would be paid for by a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax. Vocal opponents of the list say the projects are not worth the cost.
Consumer advocacy groups worked hard for the call center to be included among the projects, says John Keys, transportation consultant for the Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia.
“I think it’s really needed,’’ AARP’s Walker says. The senior population in metro Atlanta is projected to triple over the next 20 years, she says. “A lot of people want to stay in their own homes, and transportation is a big piece of that.’’