University Paratransit Service needs funding

Rebecca Czaplewski

Winter in Minnesota can be a difficult time for most students to get around campus. Slippery sidewalks, towering snowdrifts and icy winds make it daunting for any student to get to class. But for those with a disability of some kind, the terrain in winter can be especially dangerous.
Thanks to the University Paratransit Service that serves an average of 22 people per day, many people with both permanent and temporary disabilities are better able to get around campus during any season. But while the state grant currently funding the service will run out at the end of June, the University Senate voted unanimously Thursday to urge University officials to allot $75,000 to continue the service when the grant expires.
“So many people struggle here in winter to get around,” said Linda Wolford, director of the Diversity Institute. “This is such a difficult environment to get around in, especially considering how cold it gets.”
The paratransit service that began in January 1997 is a free curb-to-curb service for University students, staff and faculty. The service received the funds through a one-time allocation from the University’s Department of Health, Safety and Transportation, said Mark Cox, department director. The total cost for the service for the 1997-98 school year, not including summer session II, was more than $45,000.
The service currently has enough funds to continue running through June 30, but because the state budget won’t be finalized for another month, officials are uncertain as to where the funds will come from to keep the service after this summer.
“We still have to identify how that will be funded,” Cox said. “This is one of the pieces of the bigger transit picture, too.”
Cox said he was extremely optimistic for the University’s ability to keep the service, either with the allocation from the state through academic programs, or supporting the service through the University’s parking service revenue. Cox admitted the parking service revenue option wasn’t the best.
“The more things we expect parking to provide, the more we have to raise (parking) rates,” Cox said.
The service covers both banks of the Minneapolis campus as well as St. Paul and operates from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
But the winter months put an extra strain on the one-vehicle service, said paratransit driver Brad Sundberg. He cited a day during the first week of winter quarter when he was forced to turn away at least 20 people from the service.
Sue Lindgren, a cultural programming specialist for the Disabled Student Cultural Center, uses the service at least once a week and plans ahead because of its popularity. Lindgren calls to reserve a ride at least one day in advance and admits the service could use another vehicle. But she is quick to praise the service.
“It puts students with disabilities on an equal plane as students who don’t have disabilities,” Lindgren said.

— Staff Reporter Amy Olson contributed to this report.