In the News: Lisa Womack Helps Bus Riders Learn Their Way Around
Originally Printed in The Kansas City Star on August 15th
By Cindy Hoedel, The Kansas City Star
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 15–Lisa Womack of Kansas City is project director for On the Move, a program of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority that provides training to help residents who need assistance learn how to use buses to get around more independently and economically. Womack works for Medical Training Management, which provides training for KCATA. To request training, call 816-346-0809. For videos about how to use the bus and its features such as bike racks, go to kcata.org. For help figuring out a route or bus, call 816-221-0660. This conversation took place on a city bus.
Q- It sounds like a joke, that people would need special training to figure out how to ride a bus.
A- (Laughs.) The program is aimed mostly at people with disabilities and the elderly who wouldn’t know about features that make the bus accessible for everyone, for example the special straps and ties for wheelchair riders.
But also for anyone who just needs a little extra help with logistics, which can be overwhelming for any first-time rider. For example: How can I get where I need to go and back in terms of timing and transfers?
Q- When did the On the Move program launch and how long will it offer training?
AWe started training in March. The program has been running in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Houston and other cities so it isn’t new, it’s just new for here.
The program is ongoing. The original grant was for two years and it can be renewed after that.
Q- Who can get training?
A- Anyone who needs one-on-one help learning to use the bus. In addition to elderly and disabled people, we are working with school districts to set up training programs for their special education students.
Some of the young riders have cognitive difficulties, so we ride with them to make sure they know how to act appropriately on the bus.
And it’s important to let people mess up: OK, you forgot to pull the cord and missed your stop. What are you going to do now?
We also get referrals from a lot of adult day care centers.
We give kids and the elderly a cheat sheet with the bus numbers and backup plans and the call center number and our numbers.
Q- What advantages does the bus offer the elderly and disabled?
A- For people who depend now on Dial-A-Ride or cabs, it is a lot cheaper. They can ride the buses all day for $3. A single ticket is $1.50 and eligible low-income riders can get half-price fares.
Learning how to use the buses can help people have more independent lives.
Q- Tell us about someone you’ve trained recently.
A- There was a gentleman who was 89 in a motorized scooter who lives in an assisted living place and wanted to go to the VA hospital. He was so happy to be able to get around whenever he wanted without having to ask anyone for help.
QHow does a typical training session work?
A- First we set up an appointment, then we go through an assessment and gather basic information including where you live, how you normally get around, how many blocks you can normally walk. We don’t want you riding the bus if you can’t walk comfortably to the nearest stop. And we don’t want you walking to the bus stop in hot weather if your body doesn’t handle the heat well.
Then we’ll ask where you want to go — the doctor’s office, the casino, the grocery store — and we go out on that route and scout it. For example, if you are in an electric scooter or a wheelchair, we want to make sure the sidewalks are even and so on.
Then we figure out the timing, including backup plans if you miss your bus. Then we schedule a time to meet and we bring you a printed copy of the route and $3 for you to buy an all-day pass; that is included in the training.
Once we are on the bus, we show people where they can sit and how to hang on if they stand and where the pull cords are.
When we get off the bus, especially with teenagers, we teach them how to safely cross the street at the nearest corner, and how to use the buttons on the street lights when you want to cross.
We will do that as long as you need to feel confidant you can do it alone.
We also encourage riders to talk to the bus drivers — they are friendly and knowledgeable and can help you with transfers.
Q- If you don’t know when your stop is coming up, can you tell them where you need to get off?
A- Yes. And they can tell you how many stops are in between. They also will help people in wheelchairs get the chair secured and show bike riders how to secure their bike to the rack on the front of the bus.
Q- How hard is it to load your bike on the rack?
AIt’s a three-step process: Pull down the rack, secure the bike with a bar, push rack back up. It takes about 10-20 seconds.
Q- Do you offer training for blind people?
A- Yes. We contract with vision impairment specialists to do the training.
Q- Are guide dogs allowed on the buses?
A- Yes. Also any dogs that are in carriers.
Q- What happens if the first time a new rider tries it alone they screw up?
A- Any bus rider can always call the ATA call center — they are amazing. You can call and say “I’m standing on the corner of 47th and Roanoke” and tell them where you need to go and they will help you. If you miss your bus they will tell you when the next one is coming, or if you can pick up another bus nearby.
The bus is really user-friendly. You just have to get on the first time.
Reach Cindy Hoedel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @cindyhoedel.
(c)2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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