BY ACHILLE IOLASCON
Systems Advocate, WDOMI
The following blog is based on the experiences of a WDOMI staff member who utilizes para-transit. WDOMI as an organization is generally supportive of Westchester’s Para-Transit system that operates in an effective manner. Yet there are still drawbacks to the system, some of which are documented here. Independent Living believes that people with disabilities should utilize mainstream transportation whenever possible. People who use wheelchairs or who are blind or have intellectual impairments are becoming more common on our public transportation system- That’s a good thing that should be promoted and facilitated by our para-transit system.
The Pitfalls of the Para Transit System
To an outside observer without personal investment, the Para Transit system appears to be a tremendous utility to meet the travel needs of individuals with disabilities. Their door to door pick-up and drop-off service sounds like the ideal situation until one learns of the pitfalls of the system. Although it is very much appreciated to be able to have a service which can be relied upon for scheduled tasks and appointments, that essentially is all for which Para Transit can be utilized. Unlike the average car service, Para Transit is not an on-call service where one can call to be picked up whenever needed. Instead, Para Transit requires one to schedule pick-ups a day in advance severely hindering the independence of the disabled community by whom it is utilized. Although the scheduling system may be sufficient enough to meet the traveling requirements of every day trips such as going to work or scheduled trips such as Doctor appointments, it severely hinders a person from doing things on a whim such as going shopping or going to meet a friend. It also completely eliminates the possibility of an individual having to be at a certain destination in the event of an emergency; One’s whole life revolves around planning and scheduling. The Para Transit system is supposed to mirror mainstream mass transit yet one does not have to do this amount of planning and scheduling to take a public bus.
We who advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities strongly support people living freely and independently throughout the community and that includes traveling. We wish to eliminate the stigma that the only travel routines of people with disabilities involve scheduled doctor appointments while the rest of their time is relegated to simply staying home. The scheduling system which Para Transit utilizes hinders this progressive way of thinking and this includes the dispatchers as I have encountered a few who simply assumed they were picking me up and dropping me off at home, as if completely oblivious to the notion that I could possibly be or heading anywhere else.
Other major rumbling among passengers revolve around the incompetence and outright rudeness of some of the drivers. Although many drivers are respectful, friendly, and know their way around the county, I have encountered others whom have exhibited utter rude behavior such as being on their phones during the entire ride, using foul language, asking me, a legally blind passenger, for directions as it becomes apparently and admittedly so that they have no idea where they are going, and not following protocol which requires the driver to exit the vehicle when picking up and dropping off a passenger to ensure their safety.
Another issue That I have with Para Transit is my desire to be discrete regarding my disability which the Para Transit system completely ignores when, as in most municipalities, they will come pick me up in an ambulette or short bus intended for wheelchair use, rather than a simple taxi, regardless of whether one requires a wheelchair or not. I do applaud Westchester County for its Para-Taxi initiative in the cities of New Rochelle, Yonkers, and Peekskill and am definitely in favor of it being utilized in more municipalities along with broader service options.
Perhaps the most controversial complaint regarding the Para Transit system revolves around its cost. Since once cannot utilize the public transportation system due to their disability, it is extremely unfair that a passenger must pay more than the cost of riding the bus. The current cost for riding on Para Transit in Westchester County is $4.00 one-way which is more than the $2.75 it costs for the average person to ride the bus and the $1.25 it costs a person entitled to utilize a half-fare disability id card. $4.00 per trip can total $40.00 per work week ($160.00 per month) for a passenger just to get to and from work every day. This can put a severe strain on someone living on a low-income budget. Many within the disabled community agree that the fare cap should be no higher than the cost for the average person to ride the bus. For those who do not require the use of a wheelchair, an on-call subsidized taxi service, which is being utilized on other areas of the U.S. and other countries, with the fare capping off at half that of an average taxi service would be ideal.