Dublin resident Ayasha Barua was in tears when she learned about her city's microtransit service for seniors.

The free service, a product of a pilot partnership between Dublin and Columbus-headquartered transportation-solution business SHARE, was a much-needed resource for Barua, who had been searching for mobility solutions for her mother, Christine Rabbani, who uses a wheelchair.

"I just really wanted to make my mom's life the best it could be," she said.

To that end, Barua moved her mother from Sydney, Ohio, to the Convalarium of Dublin.

Barua, a nurse, said she knows social activities are important for quality of life -- but finding wheelchair-accessible transportation proved challenging.

"I looked high and low for options," she said.

COTA Mainstream wasn't ideal, Barua said, because her mother wasn't on a bus route.

The two even tried using taxis, until one driver dropped them off at a mall and didn't return for six hours.

Whereas Barua said the SHARE service has its limitations -- they can't visit the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium or the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, for example -- it is reliable and offers options for getting out and about.

Barua said she will work directly with SHARE to schedule excursions for her mother, who typically travels either with her or a friend.

She said most of the time they visit the Avery Square Plaza shopping center, stopping by Starbucks, the Kroger deli or Jimmy Johns.

Barua and her mother are just two Dublin residents who are making use of the city's evolving senior programming.

Kristin Gross, vice president of sales and planning with SHARE, said changes made to the way the business operates its senior circulator have improved ridership.

"Since moving from a fixed senior circulator (which like a bus would make stops at fixed points, loop after loop, regardless of riders) to a SHARE scheduled model (where the shuttle only goes out if there are booked rides in the system), in just one month we have seen a 391 percent increase in cost efficiency from Route No. 3 to Route No. 2," she said.

Dublin not only is expanding transportation options for seniors but other resources as well.

The Forever Dublin Hub, designed in partnership with Syntero, opened May 24 at Syntero's Dublin location, 299 Cramer Creek Court.

The center is staffed with navigators to guide residents seeking assistance for aging, support and care giving.

Both initiatives are part of Dublin's efforts to offer options for aging residents.

This is designed to create a "Forever Dublin" community for residents, said Christina Alutto, a Dublin City councilwoman.

Some projects within that goal are SHARE and the hub. Other projects have yet to be defined. They will need to be based on resident feedback from the first few projects, Alutto said.

Forever Dublin -- the aging-in-place goal established by Dublin City Council -- is the result of the healthy partnerships that exist in the community, said Christine Nardecchia, Dublin's director of outreach and engagement.

Here's a closer look at both SHARE and Forever Dublin hub:

SHARE program

The SHARE program began Jan. 2 in Dublin and since then, about 600 riders have participated, Gross said. The pilot will run through June.

During the pilot program, the city is working with Sunrise of Dublin, National Church Residences-Avondale Senior Community, Friendship Village of Dublin, Dublin Retirement Village, Dublin Retirement Village Assisted Living, the Convalarium, the village of Heatherstone and UFit, which provides physical therapy for the developmentally disabled, Gross said.

The program initially included three loops for riders, Gross said, but then shifted to a model she described as a hybrid dynamic schedule in which SHARE works directly with individual senior centers to make routes based on specific destinations seniors want to go.

Routes are flexible and change based on places residents want to travel, she said.

"It's all based on rider demand," she said.

SHARE gives senior living communities a list of possible destinations, days and times and they can schedule via a phone app or an 800 phone number, Gross said.

Shuttles can hold up to 14 riders -- less if they require wheelchairs, Gross said. About two-thirds of the riders include those using wheelchairs.

Destinations have included places along Sawmill Road and in the Bridge Street District and the Historic District, Gross said.

Mondays, for example, a group of Avondale residents go to breakfast.

"We're really trying to hit more places and more destinations," Gross said.

About 14 retailers also participate in a discount program associated with the routes, Gross said.

The program received a $2,400 sponsorship from Casto Properties, she said.

Whereas the city is paying for the pilot program, enabling rides to be free, the sponsorship could extend the free portion of the program, depending upon how many hours people use the service and how quickly.

Beyond the pilot portion of the program, rides could either be completely or partially subsidized by a combination of city and commercial sponsorships, Gross said.

A $25,000 Federal Transit Administration grant administered through the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission also will help senior residents participate in Dublin Arts Council programming, Gross said, such as Sundays at Scioto concerts and perhaps docent-led tours to art landmarks such as "Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges)" and "Leatherlips."

The senior circulator has exceeded the city's expectations, said Joanne Shelly, Dublin urban designer and landscape architect.

The city regularly hears from residents who had lost the capacity to leave their residences independently but now are able to join friends and family for lunch or shopping, Shelly said.

"The SHARE team is directly responsible for the great relationship we have with the seniors, the resident managers and senior-friendly business programs," she said.

The FTA grant will provide funding for additional transportation services to Syntero, senior services, Dublin Arts Council, Ohio Wildlife Center and other special events, Shelly said.

"With partnership and sponsorship funding, there is an opportunity to continue the program in support of Dublin's aging in place initiatives," she said.

Forever Dublin Hub

Although walk-in appointments will be accepted at the Forever Dublin Hub, scheduling appointments ahead of time is preferred, said Julie Rinaldi, Syntero's CEO.

Appointments can be made by calling 614-889-5722, ext. 810.

Dublin funded a part-time supervisor at eight hours per week and two part-time navigators who work up to 20 hours a week, Rinaldi said.

The navigators will be available Fridays and Saturdays to meet with people individually and in small groups. The free service is available for Dublin residents, caregivers or family members.

Topics could include volunteer opportunities available for seniors, how to navigate services available for older adults, and Medicare and Medicaid, Rinaldi said.

"That comes up quite a bit," she said.

Navigators could connect residents to federal, state, county or city resources, she said.

Members of Syntero's older adults support service staff will also provide small-group educational services, Rinaldi said, which will be available via registration.

Dublin City Council will fund the program through the end of December, Rinaldi said.

At that point, feedback will be gathered from residents and the city to see whether the program is helpful, she said.

"We'll tweak it as we go," she said.

The budget allocated by council to launch the Forever Dublin Hub was $56,000, Nardecchia said.

"The team in place will gather data this year and seek diversified funding sources to continue the momentum," she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah