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CHEYENNE – For people with disabilities that prevent them from driving, even getting to the grocery store can be a struggle.

The lack of mobility can be isolating and expensive, but Wyoming Independent Living’s Transportation Check Program is working to bridge that transportation gap.

Those who are eligible for the program can receive free bus passes and $50 in Uber credit each month. If a person receives rides from family and friends, the Transportation Check Program will reimburse those drivers 36 cents per mile.

For Laramie County resident Steve Bates, the program has been a “morale boost” and a “wonderful” resource to fall back on. Bates is a veteran with a disability similar to narcolepsy that keeps him from driving.

“For lack of a better word, it’s emasculating,” Bates said. “And quite honestly, it is. It’s crippling in the fact that you once took for granted the ability to go out for a jug of milk or a loaf of bread.”

Bates often relies on his wife or a friend for rides, but he said there is a limit to how much a person feels comfortable asking of those around them.

“You don’t want to be a burden on your friends and family,” Bates said.

One of the biggest benefits of the program, Bates said, is the ability to pay back the people who help you without making them feel guilty. He said friends often feel bad asking for or accepting gas money, but this program offers a way around that awkwardness.

The program also majorly benefits people like Bates, who live outside city limits and have limited access to public transportation.

Transportation Check Program Manager Erwin Reitsma mentioned that even if a person lives near a bus stop in Cheyenne, the buses have limited hours and fixed routes in the same areas. Reitsma said the transportation problem is worse for those in rural areas.

“The way Wyoming is designed, it’s even more imperative to have programs like this in this community and in others in Wyoming,” Bates said.

Last year in Laramie County, about 135 people utilized the program, which is funded through Wyoming Department of Transportation grants. Reitsma said the program here has the resources to help about 170 people, so they are looking to get more people to use the operation.

Reitsma said one person who uses the program used their Uber credit to get a state ID south of town where no city buses run. Bates used his Uber credits to attend meetings of the Mayor’s Council for People with Disabilities, which he serves on, and Grace for 2 Brothers, a suicide prevention group he’s a part of.

Bates said the program helped give him a sense of fulfillment.

“I can actually do something again and make a viable contribution to the society that is doing this for me,” Bates said. “Both times, there were meetings I needed to go to to help other people.”

Bates was able to get one-way rides for those two meetings, but the two Uber trips he took used the entire $50 credit for the month, which poses another problem.

“Normally, people on disability income don’t have the resources to get in a taxi every day of the week,” Bates said.

Reitsma said they are exploring more funding options to expand the benefits of the program and allow for more free rides.

“This is a very helpful program for people with disabilities,” Reitsma said.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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