June 3, 2017

Review of Paratransit

Clients do not know if they can use paratransit without knowing the demands of a system.  Here is a comparison of two systems I used.  One service covers the state of New Jersey and the other covers my county.  I needed paratransit because trips must be made repeatedly to stay at home - bank, grocery store, drug store, doctor, dentist, out-patient therapy, post office, clothing store, etc.  Paratransit kept me out of long-term care until I regained the ability to drive.

Language.  To qualify for the county service I had to give my address and diagnosis during a phone conversation.  The state required a one hour in-person interview where I had to explain why I could not take public transportation.  For example, my balance is poor so I would fall if I was standing when the vehicle started moving.  When making a reservation, both systems required me to tell them what ambulatory device I used so they knew what type of vehicle to send.

Planning Ahead.  For the county a reservation had to be made 2 weeks in advance and they asked only for my name.  For the state a reservation had to be made 24 hours in advance and they asked for my paratransit identification number.  To remember the pick-up times for a trip I wrote them on a calendar that sat on the table where I ate breakfast.  The county required only the name of the store because the person making the reservation was local and knew the area.  The state required exact addresses and names of cross streets because the person making the reservation was miles away.  I got out a list of these destination details before making a reservation.  Both services had a two bag limit.  This meant I had to plan multiple trips when I needed bulky objects like toilet paper.

Money Management.  The county service was free.  The state service required exact change.  They told me the cost of a one-way fare when I made a reservation.  Cost was based on what it would cost me to make that trip on public transportation (e.g. bus fare of $2.25).  I kept a small supply of one dollar bills and coins.

Strength.  The county provided door-to-door service which meant the driver provided physical assistance to go up and down stairs or a ramp and carry packages.  The state provided curb-to-curb service,  This meant the driver stood by the vehicle while I got myself in and out of the house and transported packages.  Both services had vehicles with a wheelchair lift to get a client in and out of the vehicle. 

Time Management.  The county service picked me up close to the time of my reservation.  The state picked me up within 40 minutes of the time I requested.  I had to plan an extra 80 minutes into every trip in case I had to wait the maximum time at both ends of my trip.

Endurance.  The county sent a vehicle to my neighborhood to take people over 65 to the senior center.  That meant I had a short 2 mile ride with the seniors before I was dropped off at the grocery store.  The state runs long trips with multiple destinations.  When I had to wait for other people to be picked up and dropped off, I might ride for an hour before reaching my destination.  Even more tiring was the 40 minutes I might have to stand before I was picked up at the store. 
I had to be at the door so I could see the vehicle which waited only 5 minutes.  I bought a folding three-legged stool with a shoulder strap that hunters use so I could sit down if I got too tired.

Balance.  Both services did not allow the drivers to start driving until I was seated and had my seat belt fastened.  Vehicles that carried wheelchairs had tie-downs which the drivers handled.

Bottom-Line.  Different paratransit services require different physical and cognitive skills. 
A generic test like the Transportation Skills Assessment Tool is not enough to assess a good person-environment fit.

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