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By Jim Newell
Many people rely on the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) to get to and from work, to a doctor’s appointment or to the grocery store.
But with the spread of COVID-19, NOTA’s volume of riders has decreased as more and more people are staying home to help mitigate the spread of the virus and stay safe.
So, NOTA is adapting to best serve the current needs of the community, including adding grocery and meal runs to their services.
“We’re here to take our essential riders to work, we have people who go to Kroger and McDonald’s, and we’re also taking people to dialysis, which we do a lot of,” said NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson. “We also stopped charging for rides, so everything is free.”
NOTA serves Orion, Oxford and Addison townships and the villages of Lake Orion, Oxford and Lennon, and is funded by a millage in each of the communities it serves.
“What we’re doing is offering to pick up groceries from Kroger’s or Meijer. They prepay for groceries and we’ll take them to them for free,” Gustafson said. “We’ve taken care of about five people so far. But we did get a couple of requests for prescriptions. So, I’m hoping that the word is getting out that we’re here to help the community.”
Seniors, those who are sick, homebound or in a high-risk demographic can order their groceries the Kroger store on M-24/Lapeer or on Baldwin Road, or the Meijer in Oxford, prepay for the order, and NOTA drivers will pick up the order and deliver it. NOTA drivers will not handle cash and will leave the groceries on the doorstep.
“We’ve also expanded our normal rules and we’re allowing non-riders to use our service,” Gustafson said, “You don’t have to be registered as a rider. We’d be happy to pick up your groceries and prescriptions if you prepay them ahead of time and we’ll deliver them to your doorstep.”
NOTA is also taking precautions to keep buses clean while transporting customers.
“We’re using sanitizer before they get onboard. The drivers are constantly wiping down the vehicles multiple times a day with Clorox wipes and (disinfectant) spray,” Gustafson said.
While NOTA takes people to regular doctor’s appointments, it’s not an emergency service: if anyone has flu-like symptoms they are urged to stay home and cannot use NOTA.
“We’re asking people ‘Are you sick?’ If they are, they cannot ride with us.”
Typically, those who want to use NOTA’s transportation services have to schedule rides 48-72 hours in advance, but now there is more flexibility in the schedule.
“We have a lot of availability right now, so even the same day we can usually take care of it because we’re low on riders and we have drivers on call,” Gustafson said. “Because we have so much room, we’re taking only one passenger at a time. Just so we can limit the exposure between passengers,” Gustafson said.
NOTA is also working to find ways to help other community groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re also opening ourselves up to FISH to help them with delivery to people who are in need,” Gustafson said. “If they want us to take all the food to the residents so that they don’t have to come (to the pantry), then we would be able to do that as well.”