Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is a well-worn aphorism that makes good sense nonetheless. The same could be said about riding a mile on your local paratransit system — using someone else’s wheelchair or walker or cane.
At the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Metropolitan Transit District (Metro), I helped create a program called “Living the Paratransit Experience” to do just that: give our board members and transit district management staff the opportunity to face the challenges that their customers face when booking rides or actually riding.
The idea for this program came to me while I was listening to a presentation of audit findings in early 2000. It seemed that both the Metro staff and board were familiar with Americans With Disabilities Act regulations, but had little concept of the human element of their paratransit riders, who rely entirely on others to see to their time schedules and physical safety.
As paratransit chair of Metro Accessible Services Transit Forum (the disability advisory group to Metro), I asked the board and staff to participate in an actual experience using paratransit.
The board approved the motion in June 2001, and the experience was scheduled for July 24 through Aug. 7, 2001, in anticipation of an Aug. 10 board presentation of a new customer guide and policies and procedure manual. By being fully aware of the challenges and difficulties facing the users, board members were able to learn first-hand the implications of the new standards that were scheduled to be implemented.
In all, seven management-level staff and three board members participated. The experience was developed as follows:
Each participant was sent a preliminary questionnaire to provide details in order to assign an alias and simulated disabilities.
The paper application in use at that time was completed by the paratransit committee and sent to the applicant to return to Metro.
A Metro identification number was then assigned.
A portfolio packet was compiled and sent to the participant. The packet contained a description of the disability, brochures describing the paratransit service and ride summary questionnaires that were to be filled out and returned.
To educate themselves about the service, the participants had to read the brochures — just as actual riders do. No hints!
3 trips requested
Participants were requested to take three round-trip rides with their assigned disability and make their own calls to the scheduling department.
Some examples of the disabilities and adaptive aids included Parkinson’s disease (four-wheel walker), stroke (wheelchair), emphysema (portable oxygen tanks), multiple sclerosis (crutches), vision impairment (white cane, eye patches) and temporary disabilities such as foot or knee injuries or surgeries (walker and
The participants had to call for their first ride and have their pertinent medical information and necessary mobility equipment entered into the computer of the service provider. (Metro’s paratransit service is contracted to an outside operator who in turn uses subcontracting independent taxi companies. Application and eligibility are handled at Metro. Because Metro’s eligibility information is not presently relayed to the service provider, the new rider must repeat information on the first ride intake.)
It was emphasized that participants should use this opportunity to look for ways to improve the service, taking note of missed or late rides, negative attitudes of drivers or anything else that might require modification.
A significant contribution
Each year the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission accepts nominations for Transportation Excellence Awards. “Living the Paratransit Experience” was selected to receive an award on May 2 for making a significant contribution to improving transportation service in the county. The award in turn recognizes all supporters and participants, because without their help the program would not have been the success it was.