U rejects paratransit expansion plans again

Two different student government groups submitted proposals this year.

by Keaton Schmitt

As winter fast approaches, campus could soon be coated with slippery ice and slick snow.
With that in mind, the University of Minnesota’s student government wants to see the school’s paratransit services expanded for disabled students.
But after the school’s Parking and Transportation Services rejected two calls for more paratransit services, the Professional Student Government is exploring other options to expand the service.
The Student Senate has previously called for an expansion to paratransit in April that was denied because of concerns the plan would harm the service.  
PSG unanimously passed an updated resolution late last month seeking to create a pilot program for an expanded paratransit service, which PTS rejected last week. They cited a possible reduction in the total number of available rides and potentially increased wait times if the program was implemented.
PTS representatives declined to be interviewed, but an email statement said PTS operates only on campus within a set boundary. PTS transports students on and between campuses.
The pilot program would have allowed for a limited number of students to be picked up or dropped off at home, provided that their home is within three blocks of campus.
The resolution also calls for the ability of students to more easily allow pick-up and drop-off locations on campus.
“If they’re not giving this a try, they’re leaving students out in the cold, literally,” said Kyle Kroll, the president of PSG.
PTS did expand paratransit to include the West Bank Office Building, a block away from campus, in response to the initial resolution as its own pilot program but found it was inefficient and caused drivers to take longer routes than necessary, the statement said.
The service has also hired a new driver and increased its number of vehicles.
“PTS understands that PSG has requested a pilot program that allows a limited number of riders to travel three blocks beyond the campus boundaries.  For the reasons laid out above — a reduction in the total number of available rides system-wide, increased wait times, and unpredictable travel times — PTS is not able to expand paratransit off campus,” the PTS statement said.
Outside of campus, PTS subsidizes transit passes for Metro Mobility, a non-University paratransit service.
“It really doesn’t make sense that students wouldn’t be brought to their houses if they are close to campus,” said Abdirahman Hassan, of the Disabled Student Cultural Center. “I honestly think they should reconsider that policy.”
Paratransit’s limitations initially came to the attention of Kroll, the student senator who proposed the initial resolution, when a student approached him about being unable to easily reach class in winter because icy streets kept her from a paratransit pickup location.
Kroll met with PTS representatives as well as members from the Disability Resource Center and the Office for Student Affairs six months after the resolution in April.
Though the resolutions were denied on the basis of draining resources and inefficiency, Kroll said the group is willing to adjust its plan to fit PTS’ needs.
He also said he is looking into working with other student governments to pass a joint resolution calling for an expanded paratransit service.
“We are amenable on every term,” Kroll said. “We just would like the administration to give it a try.”