Students seek expansion of paratransit

The shuttle service for students with disabilities does not pick up people off campus.

by Keaton Schmitt

University of Minnesota students with disabilities sometimes have to book paratransit shuttles two weeks in advance to be sure they’ll make it to class.
And although the Student Senate passed a resolution calling on University officials to expand paratransit services in April, no changes are planned, which has some student leaders upset about the lack of response.
The service transports students with disabilities to class after they select locations in an online menu to arrange rides, but the paratransit service does not operate beyond campus.
Students’ problems with paratransit came to the Professional Student Government’s attention when a student with a disability couldn’t reach her pickup destination due to winter conditions, said PSG President Kyle Kroll.
Kroll, who submitted the original resolution to the Student Senate, said he wants officials to expand the paratransit range so students aren’t stranded slightly outside of campus boundaries.
The resolution also calls for more flexibility in pick-up and drop-off locations.
Kroll and Ross Allanson, director of Parking and Transportation Services, met Monday to discuss expansion of the paratransit service.
“There are no plans to expand the geographic scope of the service,” Allanson said.
For pick-up and drop-off locations, Allanson said any student can request in advance a location be added to the list of pick-up and drop-off points, as long as the location allows proper parking.
Jacob Colon, who personally uses paratransit services nearly every day and is a former president of the Disabled Student Cultural Center, said his experience has been positive on the whole, but he has heard complaints from other students.
“Some of the locations for pick-up and drop-off are a decent ways away from the actual building,” Colon said.
He said he’s heard from students that they’re sometimes almost late to class, depending on demand for the service.
Usually, Colon requests rides two weeks in advance, which is the earliest that rides can be reserved.
“It’s a mad rush to book rides,” he said.
PSG has also heard concerns about safety in the winter months. 
Students were sometimes forced to miss class or attempt to navigate up icy hills that weren’t scalable in a wheelchair, Kroll said.
“This is absolutely something we have to do. This is about ensuring equal access to education,” Kroll said.
Currently, Parking and Transportation Services employs three full-time paratransit shuttle drivers and additional part-time student drivers, depending on the season, Allanson said.
Outside of campus, students with disabilities can use Metro Mobility, he said, which is a paid service run by Metro Transit.