It’s a Pain in the Paratransit!

I really, really try not to complain about being blind. It’s not pretty, and frankly, it doesn’t do any good to complain. It’s no secret though that transportation is the bane of my existence, that is, it really bugs me often that I can’t drive. I often find myself wanting to scream to the world, “It’s not fair!” as I lug car seats around town, ride buses with stoners, and show up soaking wet to places(rain or sweat), especially when I am subjected to frustrating situations like the one I’m about to tell you about.

Occasionally, since I’m sometimes limited by my transportation options, I give in and use paratransit. These times are few and far between because as anyone who has ever used this service knows, nationwide, it’s terribly frustrating, always late, and just not very convenient. But, it gets you where you need to go…eventually. There is such a stigma around using it too, and I’ll admit, I’ve had to humble myself at times to take it. There are also differing philosophical beliefs about using this service among different blindness camps. Basically, everyone who does use it though will agree that they have some kind of love hate relationship with it.

I didn’t even start using paratransit until we moved into the suburbs with a child, and access to public transit to various locations was nonexistent. . Once Lyft and Uber came onto the scene however, (game changers by the way) my paratransit use became limited to just going to two or three specific locations on occasion. . These are places that are in the service area for paratransit, but would cost me at least $30-50 to get to one way with Uber or Lyft. Not exactly a justifiable outing, especially when I could pay $4 round trip on paratransit.

So, every once in a while, I suck up my dislike for paratransit and set up a ride. One of the places I will ride it to is a branch of the county library that has a children’s area called Storyville. Storyville is this completely adorable play area designed like a children’s museum which my kids enjoy. But, the cost to get to it with uber or lyft is hard to justify, and completely impractical to take a bus even though one goes there, given my location to it.

It’s been awhile since we’ve gone there, so last week, I set up a ride to it. My ride was supposed to pick me up around 9 a.m., but as most users know, you have a 30 min. pick up window before the ride is actually considered late. At 9:25, the automated service called to inform me that my ride had been delayed and would be to my home before 9:55 a.m. Keep in mind that my boys and I had already been hanging out in our garage and driveway since 9. At 9:55, I decided to call and cancel my ride as it would not be worth it to go anymore. The library would take us about 25 minutes to get to alone, not accounting for traffic and whether paratransit had to pick anyone else up along the way; and our return pick up time was scheduled for 11:30. I considered pushing back our pick up time, but I had plans that afternoon and didn’t want to jeopardize our ride being behind again. While on the phone, the vehicle actually pulled up. So, I figured we might as well go if only just to get us out of the house now that we’d been sitting and waiting for an hour. It was one of those big bus types with the lifts which I hate to ride in also because they are so loud, bumpy, and scream custodialism. (Once when I was about eight months pregnant I took one to my doctor’s appointment and I was worried I was going to go into labor before we reached the office. Wink! )

I loaded both boys and car seats on the vehicle only to find that the retractable style buckle was too large to fit through the seatbelt paths of my son’s car seat. (This is the first time I’ve tried to use this style of car seat on a mobility vehicle.) Additionally, there is no LATCH system in these large vehicles. I turned to the driver and asked her what people do to secure car seats in these vehicles. She informed me that they just pull the belt over the child once the child is strapped into the harness of the car seat. To her point, this is what you do with an infant carrier or Sit n’ stroll car seat like I used to use which are designed with slots on the front arm rests for this purpose, but this method in no way is safe for anchoring any other style of car seat. So, I reluctantly tried this if only to prove my point to her that this was a ridiculous method. There wasn’t even a way to tighten the seatbelt since it’s a retractable single belt where the belt winds up inside the case with the buckle, and the belt was going to slide up and down across my son’s chest as the car seat wobbled when the vehicle was moving. By this point I was so frustrated at the lateness of the arrival and now this new development that I just gave up and told the driver we were not going to take the ride today.

I unloaded both car seats and both boys from the vehicle, and all three of us headed into the house to have a melt-down. My husband was working from home that day and was subjected to my ten minute rant about my anger and dislike for paratransit, how I’d worked so hard to make sure we were ready on time, and how I wished I could just hop into my own car with properly installed car seats to go where and when I wanted like most people do. I then called the Mobility Access line and asked to speak to a customer service representative. Side note, paratransit does have sedan vehicles in which I could have secured my car seat with no trouble, but you’re not guaranteed what kind of vehicle you’ll get, nor is there any way to get them to note on the system that you are using a car seat and need a sedan. Twenty minutes later, we still hadn’t got anywhere and I basically learned that there is no way around this situation. They basically suggested that in the future to just use their taxi service which is just as inconvenient and troublesome, not to mention more costly than a paratransit ride, but still cheaper than an uber. The irony is that this is a state subsidized ride program that is breaking their own state law that children under the age of eight must be secured in a car seat. Furthermore, having such a practice of not being able to secure car seats or suggesting a monkey-rigged solution is certainly asking parents who have no other options for rides to subject their children to risk.

I have no idea the number of paratransit users who travel with children, let alone use car seats when they ride, but my moral compass is out and my immense fired up frustration at such crummy service and hippocracy wants vindication. I want that hour and a half that was wasted that morning back. I want an apology issued to the rider after me who got picked up late and had his or her schedule thrown off. I want retribution for the outing I missed with my boys. I want compensation for disappointing two very upset little boys who didn’t get to go play like Mommy promised if they got ready on time. The whole system needs an overhaul. Truthfully, I’m fortunate enough to have other resources available to me, though they may be limited. There are others who do not and it doesn’t seem fair that people with disabilities are short-changed so often or have to settle for crummy services even if it is an “entitlement” program. How do we change the system that is such a pain to so many individuals?


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