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$10,000 Johnson Grant Expands Senior Taxi Hours of Operation

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Human Services has received a $10,000 grant from the J. Seward Johnson Sr. Charitable Trust that will facilitate expanded hours of operation for Crosstown 62, a door-to-door subsidized taxi service for residents aged 62 and over.

The expanded hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., reflect the demands for increased operations from those who use the service, according to Human Services officials. The taxi service had previously been available from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The grant was the result of discussions held by the Johnson Charitable Trust advisory board regarding transportation needs in the Princeton community, according to Human Services Executive Director Cynthia Mendez. Two members of the Johnson advisory board, Marjorie Smith and Wayne Meisel, are also Human Services Commissioners. The two commissioners subsequently asked Ms. Mendez to write a grant for funding that would expand the senior taxi services.

The expanded service, which officially began on Monday, is now provided by AAA Princeton Taxi and Limousine Services, Ms. Mendez said. She added that the need for expanded hours was reinforced by a recent survey of Crosstown 62 riders.

"Over the years, we've had phone calls as to the need for earlier morning hours and later afternoon hours," she said, adding that the expanded hours were due to residents reporting that a majority of medical appointments could only be scheduled either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. As a result, rides between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. can only be used for medical appointments.

The appropriation of the grant funding came under fire recently at the Borough/Township Joint Municipal Budget hearings when Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz, the Borough liaison to Princeton Human Services, worried that extended Crosstown 62 hours would expand a program that might not continue on municipal funding if the grant were not renewed in the future.

Mr. Koontz said that while he supports the Crosstown 62 program, he suggested that with the Borough's potentially historic tax hike, increased spending should be curbed when possible.

"All [the Johnson Trust] is promising is for fiscal year 2004, and using that money to expand on ongoing service, I felt, was not the fiscally-sound thing to do," Mr. Koontz said.

Currently, the projected budget increase in the Borough is 14 cents, but may be reduced if the municipality can receive emergency appropriation from the state. Mr. Koontz also said the Borough projects a 12.5-cent increase for 2005.

"It makes me think that we have to be more careful about expanding services and take into account what the revenue streams are," he added.

However, Ms. Mendez said Human Services "should" be able to absorb the cost even if it did not receive the grant in future years, speculating that the extended hours would increase ridership and subsequently bring in more revenue for the program.

"We will apply for the grant again, but there is no grant, that I've been able to find, that will fund you forever," she said. She added that Human Services would continue to seek other funding as well, including possible state grants.

Lance Liverman, vice-chair of Human Services agreed, saying that the program, which operates at about $37,000 annually, has survived for five years with the same funding because of "conservative fiscal management" and would benefit "substantially" from the Johnson grant without increasing municipal funding. He projected that Princeton Human Services would not have to cut back Crosstown 62 operating hours if the grant were not given in future years.

"We wanted to find out how to expand services without cost to the taxpayers, and we did that," Mr. Liverman said.

He added that because the taxi service's new hours are part of a pilot program, the efficacy of the program will be considered before Human Services applies for more grants.

Mr. Liverman expressed regret that the expanded taxi service did not receive full backing from the Borough side of the municipal budget hearing. Committeeman Bill Hearon, who is the Township liaison to Human Services, voted in favor of using the grant money.

Residents who either do not drive or are limited by disabilities are eligible to use the service at $2 per ride. Resident aides must pay the full fare of $12 per ride.

The Johnson Charitable Trust supports nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations whose programs address preventive family health and education for organizations in Princeton and New Brunswick. The grants range from $1,000 to $100,000.

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