Transit strike hits home for U’s disabled

Every weekday at 8:30 a.m., University sophomore John Lukanen walks an hour from his northeast Minneapolis home to campus.

The bus route he normally takes lasts about 20 minutes.

“I might lose 5 pounds by the time this is over,” Lukanen said. “It wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Lukanen is visually impaired. Like in cases with other University students and employees with disabilities, the bus strike, which began March 4, has hindered his mobility.

As of Sunday, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, which represents 2,150 transit workers, and the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, have not reached a contract agreement. Wages and health care are the two parties’ main issues of disagreement.

Jim Cich operates and manages the University’s Paratransit Service, which provides free rides around campus for disabled students and employees. He said that although he has noticed an increase in demand for the service, the strike is more of a problem for disabled students and employees who live off campus.

Approximately one-fourth of Cich’s customers use Metro Mobility, a bus service for people with disabilities that is provided through Metro Transit, he said.

Metro Mobility is in operation during the strike, but the program must certify potential riders before they can use the service. Since the strike began, Metro Mobility representative Bonnie Kollodge said, the service has experienced an 8 percent increase in demand, or approximately 250 more rides per day.

Roberta Juarez, assistant director of the University’s Disability Services, said disabled students have asked the campus service to help them notify professors that they could not attend class or that they needed to reschedule exams.

The University is also offering Metro Mobility discounts of up to 75 percent for disabled students and employees, said Lori Ann Vicich, marketing manager of University Parking and Transportation Services. The discount is available for those with Metro Mobility and University identification cards.

Like Lukanen, senior Jessie Wang is visually impaired. She and Lukanen are members of the Disabled Student Cultural Center, which provides support for University disabled students.

Wang lives in downtown Minneapolis and has difficulty getting around without the bus.

“The bus was my main source of transportation to get everywhere,” Wang said. “It’s hard to arrange for a ride at the last minute.”

Lukanen said it is a tough situation for drivers and riders, and he understands why the bus drivers are striking. Still, he said, he hopes for a quick resolution.

“The bus was my only mode of transportation,” Lukanen said. “I don’t have as many choices anymore.”