Public transit services for Utahns with disabilities

Story and photos by PAUL S. GRECO

Jonathan Westling has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Monday through Thursday, he rides a transit service provided by UTA.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, people with disabilities have been given equal access to transit programs. Transportation providers have the responsibility to make that participation possible.

Throughout the country, this service is known as ADA Paratransit.

Greco_Outside_Story_2_Paratransit_Van

Riders must call for a curbside pickup by one of UTA’s Paratransit vans.

UTA’s Paratransit service consists of small buses, vans and taxicabs. Riders must schedule their trip up to seven days in advance, and service is curb to curb or from designated pick-up points.

“It’s a pretty good system,” Westling said. “UTA really does try to work with our schedules.”

To qualify to ride Paratransit, an applicant must have an in-person interview and an abilities assessment. For example, if a person is determined to be unable to independently ride UTA’s buses or TRAX rail service, even with training, they qualify to use Paratransit. Also, information provided by a health care professional may determine eligibility.

About 90 percent of Paratransit costs are subsidized, making the cost to riders less expensive.

UTA’s Paratransit costs $4 per ride. “Which I have to admit that is a pretty good deal,” Westling said. “But still for a person with a low income like I do, $4 is quite a bit of money.”

Costs vary from state to state. For example, in Los Angeles County, Paratransit costs $3.25 per ride, while in Colorado Springs, Colo., the cost is $3.50.

UTA’s Paratransit’s Rider’s Guide gives detailed information about what is expected of riders. Penalties are assessed to riders if problems arise.

For instance, after waiting five minutes, UTA’s Paratransit will leave a scheduled rider and issue a No-Show. Los Angeles County and Colorado Springs follow that same guideline.

UTA assesses points for penalties. Receiving 12 points within 30 days will result in a one-week suspension.

Points are calculated as follows: one point for rides not cancelled up to four hours before a scheduled pick up; three points for rides cancelled 30 minutes before a pick up; five points for rides cancelled less than 30 minutes or if the rider isn’t present within five minutes of a pick up.

“Yeah, I’ve been suspended a couple of times but not for quite a while because I am pretty responsible,” Westling said. He said other people he knows get suspended quite a bit.

Cherryl Beveridge, special service general manager for UTA, said in an email, “Because Paratransit service is a civil right, UTA cannot impose penalties that suspend a rider’s service without providing the rider an opportunity to appeal the decision, and to be heard.”

To help riders to not receive penalties, UTA offers incentives.

UTA’s Paratransit gives rewards to riders who have a good record — it’s called the “Responsible Rider Reward Program.”

This program says if a rider does not have any points on their record for a six-month period, free rides are issued. The six-month periods are specified as January through June and July through December.

Depending on how often a rider uses Paratransit during those six months determines the amount of free rides they’ll receive. For example, two free rides are given if riders use Paratransit once per week and have no points issued, 10 free rides for three round trips per week and 20 free rides for four or more round trips per week.

No rider rewards are offered by LA County or Colorado Springs Paratransit services.

Other transit services UTA provides also accommodate people with disabilities.

TRAX rail service connects individuals in the Salt Lake Valley.

TRAX rail service connects individuals in the Salt Lake Valley.

Buses, FrontRunner commuter rail line and TRAX rail services have the capacity to assist those with disabilities who do not qualify to ride Paratransit.

Katelyn Johnson is the program director for Turn City Center for the Arts (CCA). CCA gives people with disabilities the opportunity to develop their artistic skills. As part of her job, Johnson takes groups from CCA on UTA’s TRAX service for excursions.

“Their drivers are always accommodating,” she said, “with a few exceptions, nobody’s perfect.”

Johnson says a problem she sometimes runs into is when people with strollers and such use the seating area that’s designated for people with disabilities.

Katelyn Johnson, right helps a client at TURN City Center for the Arts, located at 511 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City.

Katelyn Johnson, right, helps a client at TURN City Center for the Arts, located at 511 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City.

This means that there isn’t enough room for Johnson, her colleagues and her group to all sit together. She then has to split up her group and wait 15 minutes for the next train.

To help with transporting people with disabilities, UTA created an advisory group. Individuals with disabilities are represented on the Committee On Accessible Transportation to ensure non-discrimination.

Members of this group meet each month for approximately two to three hours. “Attendance and participation are important,” UTA says.