Elaine Wells Champions Access to Transportation

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For 25 years, Elaine Wells, Executive Director of Ride Connection, has devoted her life to helping create safe, reliable transportation options that meet the needs of older adults, people with disabilities and others.

A self-proclaimed “transportation nerd,” Wells believes that transportation is a civil right. “Access to transportation promotes independence,” explains Wells. “It allows people to stay mobile and connect with the community, go to work, shop for food, get to a meal site – and much more.”

In 1990, Wells started her Ride Connection career with the organization that was then named Volunteer Transportation, Inc. as the Risk Manager and Training Coordinator. In 1994 when she became the Executive Director she was the sole employee of the organization; Ride Connection. Her passion, vision, and holistic approach to transportation helped grow the organization to its current size of nearly 90 staff. Ride Connection and its partners primarily serve older adults (aged 60 and over) and individuals with disabilities in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties.

Ride Connection is a non-profit organization that works with a network of more than 30 community partners, such as Elders in Action (EIA), to provide and coordinate transportation options at no cost to clients. These options, tailored to an individual’s needs, range from providing rides, transit fare support, travel training or transportation information.

In fiscal year 2014, Ride Connection provided more than 435,000 trips and 225 travel trainings. “The number of people we serve has rapidly increased, but there are not enough resources to respond to everyone,” laments Wells. “Last year we had to turn down 28,000 trips.” She adds that donor and volunteer support go a long way in helping Ride Connection respond to community members’ needs.

“We depend on Elders in Action a lot,” says Wells. “There is a great deal of common ground around our services and we’re looking for more avenues for collaboration.” Because EIA has expertise in advocacy and protecting the rights of older adults and people with disabilities, Wells believes that EIA can help educate public officials about the increase in transportation needs and that Ride Connection can build on EIA’s skills in advocacy and civic engagement.

With Wells at the helm, Ride Connection is in extremely capable hands. She was recognized as Transit Manager of the Year by the Community Transportation Association of American (CTAA) and as Outstanding Executive Director by Portland Monthly Magazine’s “Light a Fire” award. Wells is currently a member of the Oregon Transit Association (OTA) Board of Directors, a CTAA Board member and serves on various other transportation advocacy and service committees and commissions.

To get more information on Ride Connection and its transportation services, visit www.rideconnection.org or call 503-528-1720. To find out how you can personally support the gift of mobility, check out www.rideconnection.org/Ride/SupportUs.aspx

by Barbara Schuetze