Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Have you ever heard of a Paratransit Service in your area? If you live in the United States, you should have access to this program. If you live in other parts of the world there might be other programs that perform the same function but with another name. Basically, it is a transportation service designed to help disabled people who are unable to use the regular public transportation service travel for work, medical or leisure purposes.

Each state, city and county may have a different set up. Overall, it must meet the standards required in the ADA. In Miami, Florida, the Paratransit service operates 24 hours a day.

The riders must be certified by the county. Once they finish this process, they are eligible to ride as many times as needed for $2.50 each way regardless of the distance traveled. Reservations need to be called in before 5 p.m. the day before and any cancellation must be called one hour prior to the reservation pick up time. The process is quite simple.

For example, you make a reservation on Tuesday to be picked up on Wednesday at 1 p.m. from your home to the supermarket. The next day, if you want to cancel your trip you must notify the company one hour prior to your pick up which according to the example would be noon.

Every system has its problems and Miami is no stranger to them. According to Miami Dade County in the year 2002 there were 264,993 non-ambulatory customer trips and 781,668 ambulatory customer trips. There are 2,900 trips on a daily basis average. Therefore, the routing is the biggest problem with so many trips and a fixed amount of vehicles.

The waiting time is 20 minutes after the negotiated pick up time. Afterwards, a rider may choose to call the county and file a complaint. The process can be frustrating when the rider doesn’t know where the driver is located. There is a constant sense of miscommunication between the broker, the company that owns the vehicles and the passengers. But wait…isn’t this supposed to be an article on being grateful?

The fact remains that no system is perfect but the one in Miami is getting closer to bearable than some of the other systems out there in the country. So why is this one any better?

The answer is the riders. There has been a long history of involved riders who have diligently been working with the county and the transportation companies to repair the glitches that cause the most distress to the clients. There is a monthly rider’s meeting where the riders, county representatives and transportation company owners discuss any pertinent information or conflicts since the last meeting. The meeting is run in an informal business manner with a few shouts here and there and few laughs along the way.

In the end, many of the riders are very grateful for this service because for many of them it is their lifeline. The vehicles transport passengers to doctor’s appointments, work, school, restaurants, movies and anywhere else within the Miami Dade County boundaries. Many of the elderly people appreciate the ability to continue a social life after they are no longer able to drive.

While other counties lack the funding to provide decent and efficient transportation with dignity, Miami Dade County Transportation is at least doing their part to support the disabled community. For that, we are all grateful.

If you have a transportation story you would like to share or comments and questions about this column send an email tonathasha@audacitymagazine.com