When did you start using the fixed-route bus system?
Growing up, I lived on a ranch in a small town that was not near any bus lines. I moved to Austin in middle school, and they had fixed-route bus services that I used from time to time to get to trainings and other things. I knew I’d need to go to college in either a small town that I could walk around in or a place with a decent bus system. When I moved to Corpus Christi to go to college, I was two and half hours from anyone I knew. I noticed the bus system [the Corpus Christi Regional Transit Authority (RTA)] and knew I need to live in close proximity to campus so I wouldn’t have to travel too far. I started using the fixed-route for the majority of my trips in 2005. Post college, I still live in Corpus Christi and now work at the Corpus Christi RTA.
How often do you use it, and where do you take it?
I use the fixed-route bus system to get to work, the grocery store and running daily errands. Being someone with a disability that keeps me from driving, you’ve got to keep all of your mobility options open. The fixed route may not be the best choice for a certain trip, but the majority of the time it can be and will work. I try to use the fixed-route as much as possible. I do not use paratransit, not because I’m not eligible, but because I prefer to use fixed-route services.
Has using the fixed route affected your life, including decisions about where to live or work?
It really has. When I first moved here, I knew I needed to live in a place close to the college campus and centrally located. Even though I then lived close to campus, I still had to transfer buses and had a 15 minute layover. So what should have been a ten minute trip turned into about a 25 minute trip. After my lease was up at that apartment, I decided to find something on another bus route to make my trips shorter. In my small home town, my transportation is “whoever has time to drive me to town for something.” The independence that I have in Corpus Christi isn’t there. When I’m visiting home, I can’t wait to get back to my Corpus Christi, where I can easily go to the store or get a haircut or do whatever I want to, no problem. So transit has certainly affected where I live.
As far as work goes, it’s coincidental that I now work at Corpus Christi RTA. I had been using the system pretty frequently and joined RTA’s Committee on Accessible Transportation (RCAT). The membership includes people with disabilities and people who work in the disability field. They help advise the board and RTA staff on decisions regarding routes, route changes, vehicles that RTA procures, etc., to make sure RTA is making routes as accessible as possible. I started at RTA as a travel trainer, and now, in addition to travel training, I work with RTA to make sure new things we implement will be accessible, such as our website. I also provide operator training.
I enjoy travel training because the only thing my disability limits is my ability to drive. I live independently on my own, and when I started using public transit that limitation was narrowed and wasn’t as big of a deal. My favorite thing with travel training is to show others that your independence can be reached. You just have to understand your public transit options, whether you use paratransit or fixed route or both.
What’s important to you regarding customer service?
One time, a friend who also has a visual impairment and I were getting on a bus. My friend uses a service animal, so we sat in the priority seating area for people with disabilities because it’s easier for the dog to sit there sideways. The bus only had two wheelchair securements, which were in the priority seats. At one stop, two people with wheelchairs wanted to board. If we stayed in our seats, they wouldn’t have been able get on. The driver was trying to figure out what to do, and I suggested to the driver that my friend and I move to some seats in the back where the dog would still not block the aisle. The driver spoke to the people who were in those back seats, everyone happily accommodated the move so that we could move and the people with wheelchairs could board. This was a great, because the driver could have said “I’m full” and taken off. The driver wanted to make sure he was able to accommodate everyone he possibly could on that bus.
Any advice for people considering using a fixed-route system?
It looks scary when you first start, and you may get lost your first time (I did). The one thing to remember is that if you get on that bus, it’s going to go around to where you caught it the first time. The operators and other passengers are going to be your best resources―they’ll help you out. Look into if the center for independent living in your city or your transit provider has travel training services, or become close with your transit provider. Fixed route services are a viable way to gain your independence, to become educated, to get a job and retain that employment, to go out in your community and have fun and enjoy the entertainment features that your community has to offer without being on such a restricted schedule.
If you are looking for a place to live, see what bus stops are close to it and try to find a place in close proximity to a bus stop. If the transit provider has a committee for people with disabilities that advises the transit provider on ways to increase accessibility, try to get on the committee. If they don’t have one, encourage them to start one. The transit provider can be very receptive. A lot of times things may not be accessible not because the transit provider doesn’t want the system to be accessible but because they may not be aware of the issue. It’s our job as people with disabilities to provide that education.