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A veteran taxi driver aims to help the elderly, poor and disabled

At 86 years old, Vic Ferrera doesn't show any signs of slowing down. You won't find this gentleman spending his golden years on the golf course or lounging by the pool. Instead, he's on the streets of Tucson, driving his cab in city traffic, down dusty roads and wherever a passenger needs to go.

Ferrera has been driving a cab since 1989. Before that, he had a stint as a racecar driver, among other things. Perhaps his most honorable position was as a Navy medic in the Marine Corps. Ferrera is a World War II veteran who fought on Iwo Jima and was present when his fellow Marines raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi. He often wears a 2nd Marine Division red cap.

Ferrera wouldn't want me to continue going on about him in this article. He tells me he's not looking for publicity for himself, but instead for the program he has created. Ferrera has started a service for the elderly, poor, disabled and veterans of our nation. He provides cab rides at a reduced rate without any signup or membership fee.

His normal rates are $3 per mile, but for those who fall below the federal poverty guidelines ($11,490 per year for one person), rates are cut in half to $1.50 with a $2 pick-up charge. Most importantly, the $100 to $150 membership fee some organizations charge is waived. Ferrera says he doesn't require proof of income and goes by the honor system.

iTN America is one example of an organization that charges a membership fee for its services. The nonprofit organization, with 25 affiliates around the country (including Tucson), offers "dignified transportation for seniors." Just go online, signup with a credit card, pay $100 for an individual or $150 for a family membership and you get rides for $1.50 a mile with a $2.50 pick-up fee. Sounds simple enough, but many elderly don't use computers. And those on fixed or low incomes may not have a credit card.

With Ferrera's program, you call for a reservation with a minimum of a two-hour advance notice and that's it. Rides are available throughout Pima County—for work, school, doctor and hospital visits, shopping, airport trips, church and even going to the casinos. To meet the demand for his service, Ferrera has enlisted the help of VIP Taxi on 1101 W. Prince Road. If he is not available to pick up a passenger, VIP Taxi will step in and offer the same lower rates as Ferrera. General manager Cheryl Allred has given the green light to participate in this program.

Ferrera also met with Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham, who wrote about Ferrera's program in his Jan. 2 newsletter. In it he writes, "Vic's business cards call him "The Legend," and this is one case where the name is appropriate."

When I ask Ferrera about "The Legend" nickname, he says that UA students gave him that name for taking such good care of them. He often gives rides to female students and if it's late at night, he makes sure they get inside safely. He says they are "the greatest bunch of kids you ever saw."

For any student or other passenger who steps inside Ferrera's or VIP Taxi's vehicles, they can be assured that the vehicle is fully insured and registered with the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures.

Ferrera's goal is for this program to spread to other cities in the country. He says he has talked with representatives in Portland, Maine so far. "Our whole nation is suffering. People need help. This can be a great service across the country," he says. Ferrera says publicizing this program has been difficult and hopes word will spread. He assures me that he's not looking for personal publicity, grants or funds. He simply wants to "publicize this for the poor."

With his new service, lines from Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus" come to my mind: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ... send these ... tempest-tost to me. And changing the last line a bit, you could say "Ferrera lifts his cap beside the taxi door."

More by Irene Messina

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