Paratransit service helps injured students to U

Maggie Hessel-Mial

It’s 8 a.m., and Jon Becker waits patiently at the curb, balancing on crutches as the Paratransit bus rolls up to take him to class.

Becker, along with about 25 other students per day, takes advantage of a free transportation service designed to help students with temporary or permanent disabilities by making the long journey to class easier.

The Paratransit bus started in 1997 and is sponsored by the University’s Department of Parking and Transportation Services. Students sign up on a first-come, first-served basis to get a ride to and from University buildings.

“There is no other option for people with disabilities,” said parking and transportation spokeswoman Lori Ann Vicich. “They physically can’t get around, especially in the winter months.”

Paratransit driver Jeff Wood greets passengers Katie Hatfield and Jenny Huang as they, along with assorted bags and crutches, climb into the bus.

Both freshmen, Hatfield and Huang have been using the bus for the last few weeks to get from Sanford Hall to their morning classes on the West Bank.

Hatfield broke her leg two weeks before fall semester and has been riding the Paratransit since classes began.

“My last day on the bus is Friday, which is really good,” Hatfield said.

Huang found out about the service on the University’s Web site after she had surgery on her anterior cruciate ligament. She uses it anywhere from one to four times per day, depending on her class load.

“It’s really nice,” Huang said. “If anyone is on crutches or in a wheelchair, it’s a really convenient service. It gets me to class on time.”

Huang said without the service she would have a much harder time getting around campus. Finding working elevators has also been a problem lately, she said.

At Sanford Hall, the elevator broke down Wednesday just as Hatfield, who lives on the eighth floor, and Huang, a third-floor resident, were trying to get downstairs to meet the Paratransit bus.

Staff and students can make reservations with Paratransit up to two days ahead of time to schedule a pickup. The service, limited to one bus during first semester and two during second semester, frequently gets overbooked, forcing drivers to turn away some reservations.

“It’s been busier lately,” Wood said. “We’ve had to turn away close to four riders a day.”

Wood said the majority of the riders he sees have temporary injuries. Only five or six have permanent disabilities.

Parking and transportation access inspector Reed Risk uses a combination of Paratransit and University shuttles – both of which are wheelchair accessible – to get around campus. Risk is confined to a wheelchair.

“People would have to beg for a ride from their friends or family members just to get around this campus, but no more,” Risk said.

Becker said he chose to use the service after his knee surgery because he and his roommates have different schedules, and he couldn’t count on a ride everyday.

Joseph Bahip, Paratransit supervisor, said he thinks the University is a pioneer in disability services because Paratransit exceeds the legal obligations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We want to help everyone,” Bahip said, “not just the able-bodied.”

 

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected]