BIG CABIN – What began as a mission to provide safe and reliable transportation to enhance the quality of life of the more than 118,000 veterans living in northeast Oklahoma has now become a ground-breaking agency that is realizing that goal on a daily basis.

Veterans' Ride Connect is a cooperative agency of transit providers working together to get veterans where they need to go. The consortium provides services throughout more than 25 counties including Ottawa along with Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Haskell, Hughes, Kay, Latimer, Le Flore, Mayes, McIntosh, Muskogee, Nowata, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Pittsburg, Rogers, part of Seminole, Sequoya, Tulsa, Wagoner and Washington.

The Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative (VTCLI), a program of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Awards grants to local transportation providers and other groups so they can better coordinate and deliver important transit information through "one-call" or "one-click" centers.

The Indian Nations Council of Government (INCOG) was awarded two consecutive VTCLI grants to create a 25-county one-call center coordinating transportation in and around the Tulsa and Muskogee Veterans Administration medical clinics, incorporating urban, rural, tribal, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and VA transportation.

The six founding transit provider – Pelivan Transit, KI BOISE Area Transit (KATS), Cimarron Public transit System, Morton Comprehensive Health Services, Muskogee County Transit Authority and Muscogee (Cree) Nation – saw the need for coordinating transportation resources for veterans and understood the importance such a system would be for the veterans of the community of northeast Oklahoma. These transit agencies now work together as Veterans' Ride Connect.

Pelivan Transit in Big Cabin offered to use its call center as the central hub for the project. The grants helped facilitate the upgrades needed at the existing location, bringing about a state-of-the-art call center and the technology to support it. The project was completed in late 2015.

Today, veterans with transportation needs anywhere in the service area only have to make one call to the Veterans' Ride Connect call center at (855) 735-4826 to learn about transportation options and to schedule a ride.

Veterans' Ride Connect services are provided to all veterans, regardless of age or financial status. Any person who has served in a military force is considered to be a veteran.

There are fees for the transportation services, but an ongoing goal of the consortium is to bring costs down through donations and grants.

All Veterans' Ride Connect transit agencies use ADA-compliant vehicles, including minivans and shuttle buses. Drivers are highly trained in wheelchair securement and all other aspects of transit safety.

Veterans answered the call of duty and served their country. Veterans' Ride Connect is now ready to answer the call and be there for them.

For more information about Veterans' Ride Connect, visit www.veteransrideconnect.org or on Facebook at Veterans Ride Connect.