Whether its providing cost-saving travel and independence for seniors or for persons with disabilities, the Schuylkill County Transportation Authority, also known as Schuylkill Transportation System (STS), stresses accessibility.

Joan Breslin, marketing and service support coordinator for STS, recently addressed members of the Tamaqua Rotary Club concerning benefits offered by the system.

Senior citizens 65 and older, as well as persons with disabilities, are eligible, at no cost, to apply for an STS card, which allows them to ride on fixed-route buses free of charge.

"We continually seek ways to become more accessible for everyone in every aspect of our operation," Breslin said.

Programs include the Fixed Route Bus System, ADA ParaTransit Services, Medical Assistance Transportation program, Persons with Disabilities program, Shared Ride Van program and Employment Transportation.

For a one-way base fare of only $1.25, the Fixed Route Bus System, STS's primary service, operates on a set schedule and picks up and drops off people, of any age, at hundreds of bus stops in all parts of the county. All senior citizens 65 and older are able to ride free all day.

The fixed route runs Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. No service is provided on Sundays. There is no service provided on the following holidays: New Year's Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Children, who must be accompanied by an adult, under the age of nine also ride for free, while those aged nine to 12 ride for 50-cents. Wheelchair accessibility is provided on the fixed route bus system to all physically-challenged individuals.

Transfers for passengers continuing their ride on a connecting route are available for 25-cents when boarding the first bus, which allows a passenger to ride free on the connecting route.

The only exception to the senior ride-for-free rule comes into play when the published fare on the connecting route is greater than the base fare of $1.25. In that case, the rider must buy the transfer and also pay 50 cents to ride on the connecting route.

Transfers are for use only in a continuous direction from point of origin to point of destination and will be honored only for the next available bus on the day of purchase. Transfers cannot be used for a return trip on the same route.

Local bus stops in eastern part of the county include the Hometown Farmers Market, Village Square, Walmart, and the communities of Tamaqua, McAdoo, Newkirk, Middleport, MaryD, Tuscarora, Brockton, New Philadelphia, Kaska, Barnesville, Hometown, Ginther, Delano and Coaldale.

"Bus stop shelters are located at key locations throughout Schuylkill County and we encourage the use of these shelters for the safety and convenience of all our riders," Breslin said.

Breslin also talked about the ADA ParaTransit Service, which provides wheel chair curb to curb service within a specific area for those who have a disability that prevents them from using the fixed route system. For more information or to apply, call (800) 832-3322.

Another service, called Medical Assistance Transportation, provides free transportation to the passenger at the most cost-effective method to medical appointments only. To qualify for this service you must have an Access Card and register with the Medical Assistance Transportation Program Office.

Persons with low income, who do not have an Access Card and are between the ages of 18 and 59, may also qualify under the the Human Services Development Fund. For more information or to apply, contact the Medical Assistance Transportation Program Office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at (570) 628-1425 or (888) 656-0700.

Breslin also pointed out that the Shared Ride Program, which provides transportation to seniors, persons with disabilities and senior group trip services at a nominal fee to health care, social services, government offices, local grocery shopping, senior resource centers and adult day cares. For more information, call the Office of Senior Services at (570) 622-3103.

Employment transportation services are also available via the Employment Transportation program. STS, with the assistance of its partners, County Assistance Office and Team PA Career Link, provide employment transportation services to the citizens of Schuylkill County who are without available transportation to and from their place of employment. For more information or to apply, call the Team PA Career Link Center at (570) 622-5253.

Individuals with disabilities under 65 years of age who live in areas not served by STS Fixed Route or ADA ParaTransit services might be eligible to use the new Rural Transportation for Persons with Disabilities program. This program is operational in 35 counties within Pennsylvania and is provided in Schuylkill County through the county's Shared Ride Van Program, which is a curb-to-curb service. For more information or to apply, call (800) 832-3322 or (570) 429-2701.

STS, which receives subsidiaries from the Pennsylvania Lottery Program, also offers seasonal travel rates, such as their "Dollar Days", which allows any person to ride for only $1 from Black Friday to Christmas. They also offer student rates, frequent rider rates and a number of other transportation programs and cost-saving incentives.

Anyone with questions about bus routes and other STS services can call (800) 832-3322 or (570) 429-2701 or visit their website at www.go-sts.com. Seniors can also call the Office of Senior Services, at (570) 622-3103 for more information.

"We strive to offer cost-saving transportation and independence to all Schuylkill county residents," Breslin said.