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Riding Made Easier

Helping Special Transit customers learn to ride the regular busses in Longmont (the Daily Times-Call does not archive, so the entire article is reproduced here):

Riding made easier

By Trevor Hughes
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT – Scott Scamehorn maneuvered his wheelchair closer to the curb as the blue Longmontster bus rumbled to a halt at his feet.

The driver hopped off the bus and started to lower the lift. But in a tremulous voice, Scamehorn, 22, asked the brown-clad man to pull the bus forward a few feet to a driveway, where boarding would be easier.

The driver obliged, pulling three garbage cans out of the street and onto the sidewalk, before moving the bus ahead.

“It’s the little things like that you take for granted,” said Dinah Pollard. “The driver’s helping out by moving the trash cans, but now he’s blocked the sidewalk.”

Pollard, torn by indecision, pulled the cans out of the way, allowing Scamehorn to wheel his way to the now-waiting lift.

“I’m not an aide,” Pollard said. “My objective is to help Scott do it himself.”

Pollard works for Special Transit, a Boulder-based company that gives rides to the disabled. But her job is to help as many Special Transit riders as possible stop using the service, and instead rely on RTD.

She’s been working with Scamehorn for weeks, reviewing bus schedules and practicing riding the RTD-run Longmontster from 21st Avenue and Collyer Street to his job at Borders.

Confined to a wheelchair, Scamehorn has cerebral palsy and has trouble speaking clearly. He also sometimes has trouble remembering new things, so practice is important.

That’s where Pollard, the sole worker in the Easy Rider program, comes in. Her background is in therapeutic recreation, and she worked for years for Boulder’s EXPAND recreation program for people with disabilities.

Now, Pollard is helping Special Transit’s clients expand their horizons by learning to ride RTD buses. Special Transit provides about 100,000 trips annually in Boulder County and is finding it hard to meet the demand.

Helping some of its more able-bodied clients use RTD would reduce that strain while fulfilling Special Transit’s mission of expanding mobility for the disabled. The Easy Rider program is believed to be the first of its kind in Colorado and modeled after one in California.

Using RTD’s system can be confusing and difficult for the most able-bodied riders, so extra effort is needed to help people with handicaps use public transit effectively.

“We’re not telling people they can’t use Special Transit. Of course they can. But this provides a whole different realm of possibilities,” said Steve Blacksher, Pollard’s boss at the agency. “Public transit gives you a whole range of spontaneity. You get flexibility, more days and times you can travel. It expands the places you can go.

“If you want to go to Denver, you can’t get there on Special Transit.”

Recently, Pollard accompanied Scamehorn as he rode the Longmontster from the city’s north end to Sixth Avenue and Kimbark Street, switching buses to end up behind the Borders bookstore on Hover Street.

Scamehorn works at Borders three days a week, and has until now relied upon other people to help him get there. But with Pollard’s help, he hopes to be able to get around unaccompanied.

“All right, going up,” the driver told Scamehorn as the lift raised his metallic wheelchair into the back of the bus.

Scamehorn is about the 25th person Pollard has trained since September. She eventually hopes to train about 80 a year, although most will need less coaching than Scamehorn. Many of her clients are elderly, and simply need help getting accustomed to riding public transit.

“Two in front and two in back,” Scamehorn directed as the driver secured the chair with restraints. He then asked the driver to let him off at Sixth and Kimbark.

“Good job telling him where you want to get off, too,” Pollard told Scamehorn as she settled into a nearby seat.

The Longmontster buses are driven by contract drivers who are not RTD employees, and they are sometimes unfamiliar with the wheelchair lifts and other conveniences needed by the disabled, Pollard said.

State and federal transit laws require drivers to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled. That can range from stopping slightly ahead or behind the actual stop for access reasons, to making unscheduled stops along a normal route.

On Scamehorn’s trip, the driver was slowed by loading the wheelchair, so he called ahead to Scamehorn’s connecting bus to request a three-minute “courtesy hold.”

A minute later, the Longmontster with Scamehorn and Pollard aboard arrived at the stop, the connecting bus waiting. An easy transfer later and they were off again, trundling across the city.

Midway through the ride, Pollard turned from a conversation and started staring out the window.

Turning back briefly, she explained that she gets bus-sick easily. That helps her keep in mind the challenges faced by her charges.

“Getting carsick?” a queasy Pollard asked Scamehorn, who shot back, “No. Getting bus-sick.”

Minutes later, they breathed fresh air at the stop behind Borders on Dry Creek Drive. The first stop in the shopping area is too far for Scamehorn to wheel, so Pollard helped him figure out that staying on the bus longer would get him closer.

After unloading and a quick trip inside Borders, Scamehorn and Pollard rolled back to the stop to wait for their ride home. When Scamehorn says he’s worried about eventually riding alone, Pollard is full of reassurance.

“I’ll ride with you until you aren’t nervous any more,” she said.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

Katja

2 Comments

  1. Bonnie

    We have a real problem here for wheelchairs. Lousy sidewalks! 4 people have been killed of late because they chose to use the roadway.

    Our buses have the ability to raise and lower the entrance steps, but I have never seen a person in a wheelchair using the regular buses.

    Reply
  2. Katja

    Both the regular RTD (Denver and environs) and the local busses (the Longmonster mentioned in the article) are well equipped for wheelchair riders, and a lot of folks do use them.

    Reply

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