- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2016

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) - Claudia Jester says finding a ride to her doctor’s appointments can be a challenge.

“Both my boys have full-time jobs,” said the 72-year-old resident of Churchman Village nursing home in Stanton. “I don’t qualify for DART Paratransit because I don’t have Medicaid so I have to find someone who can take me and my wheelchair, which can be tough.”

Recently, Jester discovered a new transportation company aimed specifically at people like her.

Direct Mobile Transit launched earlier this year with the mission of helping older New Castle County residents and people with disabilities get to where they need to go.

The company is among a growing number of businesses aimed at serving the booming senior market, which is expected to account for more than a quarter Delaware’s population by 2020.



“The idea for the company really came from our own experiences with older family members who had to give up their car,” said co-founder and Wilmington native Mike Bantum. “They wanted to stay active and go places, but didn’t want to take public transportation or be a burden to their family.”

Direct Mobile Transit, he said, now offers seniors and those with disabilities another option.

“Our prices are very comparable to local cab companies,” the 53-year-old said. “But we can offer a level of service most public carriers cannot.”

Direct Mobile Transit is technically a limousine service, but its fleet is made up of four specially equipped, wheelchair-accessible vans rather than stretch limos or Lincoln Town Cars.

All of its drivers receive first aid and CPR certification, along with special training for assisting riders with a host of disabilities ranging from Alzheimer’s patients to the deaf. And they must pass routine drug screenings in addition to the defensive driving courses and federal fingerprint background checks required by state law.

Its vans also are equipped with global positioning systems to help avoid traffic jams, and drivers are able to take most major credit cards.

“We offer a high-level of customer service to our clients, including door-to-door service,” Bantum said. “It’s a few steps beyond what you might get from a cab company or a ride-sharing service.”

Bantum and his brother Charles launched Direct Mobile Transit in January following two years of market research. Fittingly, the company began rolling out its service the day after Independence Day.

The startup’s headquarters and central dispatchers are located at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s Emerging Enterprise Center, a business accelerator that helps new companies establish a foothold in their markets.

For now, most of Direct Mobile Transit’s business comes from LogistiCare, a Georgia-based transportation broker contracted by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. Logisticare is responsible for hiring a handful of companies to transport families with limited resources to their doctors appointments and other medical services covered under Medicaid.

Melanie Tharp used the service recently to help get her daughter Angelina Doris, 15, back and forth from their Newark-area home to Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Rockland.

Doris, who has cerebral palsy and gets around in a motorized wheelchair, recently underwent surgery to implant a device that will pump medication into her spine to alleviate spasticity.

“We had a follow-up appointment to make sure the pump did not have any leaks,” said Doris, who will start her freshman year at Newark High School in the fall.

Because Doris needs 24-hour care, Tharp said she is unable to work and cannot afford a wheelchair-accessible vehicle or the cost of a cab. So she relies on transportation provided by LogistiCare.

The recent trip was the first time she and her daughter got a lift from Direct Mobile Transit.

“From now on, I’m going to ask for them all the time,” she said. “The drivers were just really nice. They talked to us the whole time, and the van was really big.”

Bantum said he’s hoping to also make Direct Mobile Transit the go-to personal car service business for seniors looking to pay for their own rides.

The company serves only New Castle County during the core business hours between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Customers are asked to provide 24-hours’ notice before they need a ride to ensure a driver will be available.

The company uses zone pricing based on travel distance with the average price running about $35 for a one-way, 6-mile trip. But the company is offering a 15-percent discount on all rides booked before Aug. 31.

Jester said she first heard of Direct Mobile Transit after seeing a brochure at her nursing home. She decided to give the company a try because of the limited-time discount.

“I don’t know about you, but I go with what’s cheaper so long as it’s convenient and comfortable,” she said.

“Direct Mobile was affordable and prompt,” she said. “I’m already planning to call them again when I go back to see my doctor next month.”

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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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