December 2011

Mich. transit’s ‘buddy system’ gives senior, disabled riders guidance

by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor

<p>Lake Erie Transit's Monroe, Mich.-based Lake Erie Transit (LET) rolled out a "buddy system" in October to help seniors and new riders acclimate to using the transit system. The program is similar to travel training, but with more personal service, Mark Jagodzinski, LET's GM, said.

The program helps new riders — seniors, students and those with disabilities — use the bus. LET staff will meet seniors at their pick-up point, ride with them to their destination and make sure they get off at their stop, Jagodzinski explained. For their return trip, the "buddy" will even make sure the rider gets back on the bus and off at the originating location.

LET uses the buddy system on all of its services, including its two Dial-a-Ride systems and its fixed-route system.

In addition to seniors and disabled riders, the program is able to help several middle school student riders.

"We have found that the transfer process from one bus to the other can be a little intimidating for them, so we make sure we're at the transfer point," Jagodzinski said. "We walk them from one bus to the other, confirm with them they're getting on the right bus [and] going to the right location, and make sure the driver knows to watch out for them."

The service is designed to promote LET's goal to ensure that no rider gets stranded or lost as a result of missing the bus. The agency even provides a phone number to contact a road supervisor or Jagodzinski himself, to get assistance for getting home after the dispatch office closes at 6:30 p.m.
 The service evolved out of discussions the agency had with senior groups about their fear of not knowing how to use the system, and getting left behind or missing their bus, Jagodzinski explained.

"We had an informal program in place for the past several years. We'd go out and talk to senior groups, and tell them, 'if you want to ride the system and you're afraid, give us a call. We'll have someone work with you and help you,'" he said.

Additionally, to get the word out to the public about the program, LET filmed four new television commercials, which included actual riders working side by side with professional actors and the agency's bus drivers.

"When we sat down to plan the new campaign with Sheroian Associates, our marketing agency, we kept bringing up true stories of riders," said Jagodzinski. "Not only did we use a few actual stories of riders, but we invited some of our favorites to be in the commercials, like Mary Wenzel, who is 92 and rides the bus to her hairdresser every Friday."

Over a two-day shoot at various locales around Monroe, Mich., a production crew created the commercials. The new commercials began airing locally in October and can be viewed on YouTube.

The experience reminded Jagodzinski how proud he is of his drivers.

"We even have a driver who picked up a passenger in her own car after she missed the last scheduled stop," he added. "I think those are stories worth sharing with our community."


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