“The drivers are having a hard time tying down my chair, getting it out (of the bus) and people complain that my chair is too big,” said Kidwell, a 58-year Sparks resident. “I’ve already gone through this process.”
Kidwell, along with other community members, attended the RTC’s senior transit fair on Thursday to explore options. RTC officials partnered with other local agencies to open the doors to seniors and the disabled to show them the services provided to them as well as the encourage the use of the public transportation system.
At the Sparks Centennial Plaza, residents could take wheelchair workshops, practice boarding a bus and learn how safe and easy it is to travel from point to point.
Christine Campbell, RTC marketing administrator, said the outreach effort was intended to increase senior participation on RTC’s RIDE and Access buses by showing them the convenience of boarding.
“It provides freedom and independence,” Camp-bell said. “They live in centers where people are so isolated and they depend on Access. People may need transportation but feel nervous, so this is a grassroots effort in a comfortable setting in this beautiful center.”
Seniors gathered information about using the service as a means of transportation as they draw near the point in their lives when they might have to surrender their driver’s license. The disabled were able to discover the joy of how accessible RTC makes it for anyone, in a wheelchair or not, to get out into the world.
Kidwell’s chair barely fits into the 48-inch by 30-inch dimensions the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public transit to accommodate. The dimensions allow for an extra 2 inches of space on the bus to be strapped in and to make boarding easier.
While it can be a tight fit, Kidwell needs to ride to get to work and said she wants to avoid trouble with her boss as she takes the bus to doctor’s appointments and needs some extra time to load. Kidwell wants to get the message out to the drivers who she says often give her trouble.
But Paul Earnshaw, a representative of Transit Management of Washoe who provides operations training for RTC, said in a situation like Kidwell’s, drivers should be able to accommodate up to two chairs on a bus as long as they are within the ADA parameters.
“If it’s oversized, the security straps we have don’t tighten down correctly and so we risk that chance of them falling over and those types of claims are a great liability to us,” Earnshaw said.
If there any issues, drivers are required to contact their supervisor to decide on how to accommodate the passenger on an Access bus.
Earnshaw said Transit Management offers “awesome drivers” for the public, even if one may occasionally have a bad day.
Being able to get around for jobs or other errands is important to the disabled, but part of taking advantage of the service is helping to alleviate fears about how to board a bus.
Blossom Javier, director of mobility planning services with the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living, devotes her time to training bus riders in that capacity.
“It gives them an option of independence,” Javier said.
She will help about 10 to 12 riders in the morning and afternoon, the best times for them to board. She will also encourage residents to participate in a monthly rider’s club, through which she invites them to go to certain activities and use the bus to get there, such as the Reno Senior Center.
“The best thing is when they tell me they don’t need me anymore,” she said.
Other groups were available at the fair Thursday, such as the American Association of Retired Persons to give information about driver safety courses.
Bill Perry, Nevada state coordinator for AARP, said the organization instructs older drivers who may consider switching to public transit.
“This class helps people understand when it’s time to hand over the keys,” he said. “We don’t teach driving; we teach safety.”
Sparks classes are held every other month, but courses are available in Reno monthly, Perry said.
Safety remains RTC’s priority as well, Earnshaw said.
“The intent of the driver (is) to keep (passengers) safe,” he said.