Access Report

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In my continuing story line on problems of accessibility relating to those of us with disabilities, specifically of a physical nature, I have devoted much coverage to the matter of transportation. Through my personal involvement along with the information I have gained by talking to others who are also seniors and/or people with disabilities, I have learned that transportation is a complex problem without a simple solution.

I will first address a problem that occasionally exists with our own CHA transportation system: the availability of busses and other vehicles with wheelchair lifts to transport those of us who are residents of senior housing developments to various activities. I will use as examples two occasions within one month – on Saturday, June 21, when some residents of my Eckhart Park senior housing development attended a performance of the gospel play “Perilous Times” at the Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place, and on Wednesday, July 8, when the Eckhart Park Traveling Club attended its monthly lunch outing at the Country Buffet restaurant in Vernon Hills.

On both occasions, I had to get out of my wheelchair and maneuver the steps on the regular school bus which transported us. I am able to accomplish this maneuver but with great difficulty. During the lunch outing, I was scheduled to provide entertainment to the group as a singer.

CTA Paratransit Operations and many other services providing transportation for seniors or those with disabilities are having difficulties finding enough drivers to operate their accessible vehicles and other problems. Over a period of less than 2 months, I experienced 4 pick-ups in which the driver was more than 1 hour.

In letters to Nancy Isaac, General Manager of CTA Paratransit Operations, I related all of these plus other failings of the carrier I use, Cook-Dupage Transportation (CDT). I wrote to Isaac about how often CDT had failed to pick me up within 30 minutes of the scheduled pick-up time. After each incident of extreme lateness, I telephoned Nora Mitchner of CTA Paratransit, who has been given the responsibility along with CDT head Chris Jans of monitoring my trips.

Each time I wrote to Isaac, I received a reply in which she provided important information. Along with my telephone conversations with Mitchner, I was also contacted by telephone by Jason Houston of CDT on July 14 and by Josh Leon of CTA Paratransit on July 20. So it has become obvious to me that some attention is being given to the deficiencies I have experienced.

Leon’s contact was most interesting. He advised me that CTA Paratransit carriers are penalized for any pick-ups over 30 minutes late and receive the maximum penalty for pick-ups that arrive 60 minutes or more late. Leon said the amount of this maximum penalty is $150. Since CTA Paratransit receives funding through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to operate its transportation system, penalties for lateness are deducted from the amount of total funding for each carrier. For just my four trips which were late by 60 minutes each, CDT suffered a loss of $600. This loss must be considered very serious, especially because my cost for each of these trips was just $1.35, the price of a CTA token. For all 45 trips which I took from May 1 through July 19) which totals and of my cost), my total cost was $60.75.

I was first required to use vehicles with wheelchair lifts or ramps in July 1993 after being discharged from nearly 3 months of hospitalization. For my second medical outpatient visit on July 30, 1993, I first used a medical transportation service which regular insurance plans will not cover but I was able to use because I had temporary medical coverage through the Illinois Department of Public Aid. I began using CTA Paratransit in December, 1993, after becoming certified by the Regional Transportation Authority. When I reached age 65 last November, I began to be contacted by insurance companies who work with Medicare.

A little more than 2 months ago, I began to use a medical transportation service through an insurance company under the provisions of Medicare. Through my use of this service, I discovered that they have difficulty in obtaining drivers. It was conveyed to me as a problem confronted by CDT Paratransit. In my conversations with an analyst with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, she told me that the problem is that drivers and other transportation personnel are not being paid enough and with our outstanding economy, competent drivers are able to obtain higher paying employment with minimal difficulty.

In discussing this problem with others, I have learned that many who need the service will quickly give up and call a taxi cab or use an alternative service. Many others have become complacent and accept the existing service as is, using it only for emergencies.

With the number of seniors who receive Medicaid benefits through Public Aid and who will only use transit services for medical purposes, the problems of the service are not as obvious per total usage. CTA Paratransit is able to schedule a total of 4200 trips per day per its operating budget and the number of requests received unfortunately exceeds this amount. Obviously, the complexity of the problem requires more study and hopefully more viable solutions will be reached.

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