Gopher Chauffeur adds wheelchair-accessible van

The van is available by request and fits up to four people.

Gopher Chauffeur's new wheelchair-accessible van sits on display at the University of Minnesota Fleet Services in Minneapolis on Jan. 20, 2017.

Courtney Deutz

Gopher Chauffeur’s new wheelchair-accessible van sits on display at the University of Minnesota Fleet Services in Minneapolis on Jan. 20, 2017.

Natalie Rademacher

After a year of planning and collaboration, a wheelchair accessible Gopher Chauffeur van made its debut Thursday night.

The Gopher Chauffeur offers free transportation services to University of Minnesota students Thursday through Saturday. The wheelchair accessible van is available by request and has room for each student who needs it to travel with up to three friends, said Julie Sanem, director of health promotion at Boynton Health.

“We don’t want people who use wheelchairs to feel limited,” Sanem said. “They should be able to go out on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights just like anybody else.”

Boynton Health, the University’s Parking and Transportation Services, and the Disability Resource Center worked together on adding the van.

Discussions started about a year ago when the DRC approached Boynton Health, which runs Gopher Chauffeur, about the lack of wheelchair accessible vans, said David Golden, Boynton’s public health and communications director.

Golden said Boynton had wanted an accessible van for years but couldn’t afford to buy one. So when PTS acquired a new paratransit van, they sold one of their older vans to Gopher Chauffeur for about $1.

“We have a great partnership with Parking and Transportation Services. They have been instrumental in helping with Gopher Chauffeur,” Golden said.

PTS also helped Gopher Chauffeur train drivers to operate the van, Sanem said. Training consists of operating the lift and other general safety measures. Of the 60 employees at Gopher Chauffeur, only the team leads are trained to operate the van.

The DRC researched what other schools around the country were doing regarding wheelchair accessible transportation and helped ensure legal requirements were in place, said Ross Allanson, PTS director.

“Roberta Kehne [from the Disability Resource Center] was instrumental. She helped us through all the requirements,” Allanson said.