Shopper Links shuttles are operated through the Regional Transportation Program that provides low-cost transportation throughout Cumberland County. COURTESY PHOTO

SOUTH PORTLAND — Shopper Links, the shuttle and ride service transporting older adults and adults with disabilities to grocery stores and the local food pantry, is seeking to extend their pilot period to October and gain ridership.

“This is a project that came about partly due to a focus group we did with older adults and people with disabilities,” Zoe Miller of the Greater Portland Council of Governments said at the July 23 council meeting. “We heard their needs and looked at feasible, short-term solutions, and leveraged funds from the National Aging and Disability Center to launch this pilot.”

The Shopper Links pilot has two components: A shopper shuttle operated by the Regional Transportation Program, that runs three days a week to grocery stores and the local food pantry, and on demand rides from Uber and Lyft.

Miller said that Greater Portland Council of Governments is working with the South Portland Housing Authority, Avesta, Opportunity Alliance, the South Portland Bus Service, and several other partners to promote Shopper Links.

“We’re trying to get the word out,” Miller said. “We’re in the process of connecting with local grocery stores and coming up with a list of funding opportunities.”

It costs $85 an hour to run the shuttle when it’s in use. This includes the cost of the vehicle, driver and outreach.

“So, if we’re able to get 10 people on the shuttle, that’s about $25 per person for the three-hour span that it takes to pick everyone up, shop, and take everyone home.”

Miller said that the shuttle provides a “unique social value.” Riders of the shuttle are connected with a group of other riders, providing social connection.

According to the AARP, social connection is one of eight domains of livability necessary for a good quality of life for aging persons in a given community. Another one of the domains is transportation. Shopper Links addresses both.

City councilor Susan Henderson, who serves South Portland’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, said the program’s eventual goal would be to expand to serve the Greater Portland region.

Mayor Claude Morgan voiced approval for Shopper Links at the meeting. “Thank you for doing what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s a great program.”

Miller said she is still waiting for approval to extend the pilot and hopes that the additional time would allow the opportunity to gain ridership.

Evelyn Waugh can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9026.

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