July 20, 1999
Opening New Doors
Greater accessibility means greater independence
for customers with disabilities
DART is taking new steps toward a day when all buses and trains will be fully accessible to disabled customers. That day is not far off.
"We're getting there!" says DART Vice President of Transportation Operations Frank Jennings.
"All light rail and commuter rail cars are wheelchair accessible and more than half of our 800 buses are accessible. By 2001, all of our public transit vehicles will be totally accessible."
Jennings says every bus and train operator is certified to operate wheelchair lifts. Currently, train operators are re-certified on a yearly basis; beginning this fall, bus operators will be re-certified every two years on all aspects of operating their vehicles -- including sensitivity to the special needs of disabled patrons.
Operators re-certified for working with disabled
"For the most part, we get good reports about our operators, but customer complaints are taken seriously. Also, we have ghost riders on trains and buses reporting on the performance of operators. Operators identified as having deficiencies are retrained to improve their performance," Jennings says.
Buses with lifts are scheduled a minimum of one per hour on designated routes -- and accessibility increased with DART's June service improvement package.
Taking a fresh look at paratransit eligibility
As the DART System becomes more accessible, the agency is looking at new ways to match disabled customers with regular bus/rail routes or paratransit van services.
Working with local agencies and organizations representing the disabled, DART is reassessing eligibility requirements for paratransit van service, and offering travel training to those who can gain greater freedom by using the bus and train.
"Every light rail car has space for two wheelchairs, which exceeds the federal requirement of one space per multi-car train. No federal funds accompany these requirements, but we want the best transit system possible -- and that includes all our riders," says DART President/Executive Director Roger Snoble. "The more accessible our fixed route system becomes, the better it works for our riders traveling in wheelchairs."
DART Executive Vice President/General Manager of Operations Victor H. Burke is heading up the initiative to direct paratransit services to those without other options, and to introduce disabled riders to the independence of regular route bus and train travel to those without other options, and introducing riders with disabilities to the independence of regular route bus and train travel.
"Under the new eligibility process, some paratransit customers may no longer qualify to use our curb-to-curb paratransit van services to the extent they have in the past. We can anticipate some complaints, but we will be there to help them with the transition," he says.
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Representatives of disabled comment on new paratransit eligibility process
The members of DART's Paratransit Access Advisory Group (PAAG) represent 14 organizations that interface with disabled persons in our service area. They meet regularly for updates and input into plans and issues involving the accessibility of DART services.
Sherry Taylor, Texas Commission for the Blind
"I think the new paratransit service eligibility assessment process is necessary because the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that functional limitations be used to determine eligibility -- and doctors don't have any way of determining that. A doctor knows if someone is blind, but some legally blind people utilize what vision they have so well, you wouldn't know they were blind. Others with the same degree of blindness freak out about it, and are truly not capable of learning to ride a bus. Reassessment is a highly charged issue. Lots of visually impaired people are afraid they'll be denied service. I understand that, but they don't need to be afraid. I'm totally blind, but I used to ride the bus to shop at a nearby mall before it closed."
Stacey Rogers, Executive Director, North Texas Rehabilitation Services
"I'm in favor of the new policy and procedure to make paratransit service more efficient.
Assessing transportation needs of applicants and providing fixed route travel training for those who can learn to use the bus or train makes them more independent. And there are more seats on the vans for those who could not make the trip otherwise. Once the new process takes flight -- and it will take some time -- the efficiency and quality of paratransit service will continue to rise."
J. D. Harrell, United Cerebral Palsy
"The only way to encourage people with disabilities to use mainstream public transit is to provide training, and DART is doing that. We deal mostly with adults, but because of their disabilities a lot of them are frightened about the idea of taking a bus or train, rather than calling a paratransit van. Training needs to include parents also -- some are a little over-protective of their disabled adult children. But when people learn how to get where they want to go on mainstream transit, most will be glad for that independence."
Andrew Linville, Coalition of Texans with Disabilities
"It makes sense to integrate paratransit services with accessible buses and trains. I'm getting an electric wheelchair soon, and I'll sign up for travel training on DART's new NOVA bus with wheelchair lifts. DART does need to reassess customers like an older lady with osteoporosis I saw who came running out of the beauty parlor carrying two bags and got on a paratransit van. This service is for the truly disabled. I don't want people being denied, but I think we need to define the term 'disabled' more closely. That's what the new process is about."