Courtney Gale writes to us about problems with transit in Palm Beach County for persons with disabilities. Here, with our edits, is an e-mail and then a more formal article:
I am disabled, so I use Palm Tran’s door-to-door service. I have been having problems with them for years:
- Many drivers are late even though they have a 30-minute window for pick up;
- Waiting over 30 min in the FL heat is not ideal;
- Many drivers get lost even though there are many options available now for finding a pick up or drop off point;
- If you do not qualify for PT’s Transportation Disadvantaged program you end up paying $6 for a round trip (that’s $3.50 each way);
- When riding, wheelchairs and the people that occupy them, are to be strapped in. Many of these belts are loose so even though they may be around a person, the effect they are meant to have is moot.
IN THE WRONG DIRECTION WITH CONNECTION
By Courtney Gale
According to the U.S. Census 2000, 20.9% of the individuals in Palm Beach County are disabled. Some of these will have been born with their disabilities, whilst others won’t have. Not only does this highlight why everybody should have good disability insurance coverage in place (this disability insurance guide is useful for more information), it also shows how important it is that disabled access is kept at the forefront of our minds. Many people who ride paratransit buses do not drive for medical reasons. I am also one of these people.
Living in Palm Beach County, I use the shared, door to door, paratransit branch of our public bus system known as Palm Tran Connection. I have been a Connection rider for 10+ years and other than experiencing the trips that I have scheduled, I have also undergone a plethora of problems which makes me seriously wonder if Connection drivers show their charges the respect and compassion they deserve. Disabled, frail and elderly citizens depend on this service and these vehicles to get to work, college, important medical appointments, shopping or just spending some time out of the house.
When I have an excursion planned, I have learned to state my appointment for at least thirty minutes to an hour ahead to ensure I arrive on time as [other] passenger[s] who uses Connection to get to adult daycare.
One looks forward to her trips to daycare and gets upset if the bus is late. “All her friends are there […] it’s her life.”
Connection drivers are often late picking their passengers up whether it’s to their destination or a return trip home. The wait “window” is to be thirty minutes, but it often ends up being an hour or more. During the wait time, riders must stay alert to look for that big white van and, more often than not, place at least one phone call to complain or inquire about where their vehicle is due to the tardiness. Palm Beach Post reported the situation of a diabetic man who had not eaten prior to his wait window. He had a 9-9:30 am pick up time. The van finally arrived at 11 am. I admit, homes can be a bit difficult to find, but GPS, maps, hell, being able to read the signs pointing to the proper streets are all ways to overcome this hurdle.
When a van arrives early, the drivers usually leave before I can get out the door since he (or she) has not read the sheet outlining the details for each passenger known as their manifest. For example, mine says, “DEAF PASSENGER IN A WHEELCHAIR.” A wheelchair can make getting ready twice as long and being deaf, I do not hear the phone ring, but they usually call the house anyway and when no one picks up, they move on.
So after I have reached my frustration point for the day, paid the driver (We’re at $3.50 each way when those on regular buses pay $3.50 for an unlimited day pass.) and signed the intake sheet, I must endure the strapping in of my chair.
If you ask many drivers, the chest belt is supposed to go behind me. They do not know the proper placement of the restraints and many belts are so loose, they forfeit any and all responsibility for keeping a wheelchair user securely in place.
Once they drop me at my doctor’s office and I have finished my hour-long appointment, I get to do the whole thing over again.
It makes for a very long day surrounding a very short meeting.
The Palm Beach Post took notice of these problems when service became really bad in August of 2012. Palm Tran reduced service vendors from three to solely Metro Mobility Management Group. Metro promised them a savings of approximately $16.7 million over the next five years. Despite Metro’s problems such as labour issues and a case involving a blind passenger being groped by a driver, Palm Tran officials approved the takeover.
When asked about the switch, Palm Tran’s executive director, Chuck Cohen, was quoted as saying, “This has gone beyond what we were expecting,”
Switching from three providers to just one, what did you expect?
The administrator at New Day Adult Day Care Center, Julie Tombari, believes the drivers were not fully trained, but seven weeks after Metro’s takeover, Tombari and several of the customers thought they saw things starting to improve.
Apparently, not fast enough because not even two weeks ago, the Sun-Sentinel reported that Palm Tran had ended their contract with Metro Mobility.
“Providing paratransit service is expensive for any transit agency,” said Lisa Bacot, executive director of the Florida Public Transportation Association. Palm Tran is no exception, but what does cost to the county have to do with recognizing a rider’s needs and a driver treating the different impairments accordingly that they are faced with every day? Background checks, more thorough training periods, a standard of medical knowledge and a test for all of this should be mandatory for all drivers. Not only that, but the drivers should want to be there.
Maurice Jacobson, Palm Tran advisory board member and a Connection rider, agrees: “It’s a lifeline to be able to not only go to the doctor or the grocery store, but also they have a right to go to the movies, the library,” he said, “These are not profit centers. They’re service centers.”
In an e-mail that county commissioner Shelley Vana’s aide Kelly Peck composed to Cohen, PTC director Ron Jones and Metro owner Cullan Meathe, an excerpt read,
“It is horrible that our most vulnerable have missed important doctor appointments and even lost their jobs; it is totally shameful […] There are truly safety issues. That is not OK, none of it is. […] I shudder to think that something horrific is just a step away. This is despicable, and I am so glad that I do not have a loved one that has to endure these conditions.”
References: Palm Beach Post, Mon Oct 1, 2012
Palm Beach County, Aug 6, 2012
Sun Sentinel, Jan 18, 2014