Monday, May 6, 2013

Ask the Expert: Meagan Greathouse, Mobility Specialist, METRO Regional Transit Authority in Akron, Ohio

1. As a mobility manager, what work do you do with schools?

Meagan Greathouse Mobility Specialist METRO Regional Transit Authority in Akron, Ohio I provide travel training and travel instruction with schools, which is customized to that particular group depending on what they request. We ideally like to spend at least three days with a school.

The first day we will go into the classroom for a presentation that typically lasts approximately two hours. We discuss who we are, what METRO does, basic bus information and the difference between a METRO bus, a school bus and a regular vehicle on the road.  Our program is operated out of the Customer Services Department, so we like to present materials in as many different ways as we can.  This can include bringing in bus stop signs, brochures, “how to” sheets and bus schedules for the area in which we are teaching.  After talking, the class will watch a METRO DVD, which we leave for the class.  The videos further explain the areas we have covered.  Individual travel training information is also given out should a parent/guardian requests more in-depth one-on-one training outside of school.  Should the teacher want more focus on schedule reading, we provide a session complete with an exercise worksheet, completed as a group.

During the second visit, an out-of-service bus is brought to the school so the students can see in person what they have learned in the classroom. I don’t believe a person can truly learn the knowledge he has attained until it is put to use.  Starting with the outside of the bus, students learn how to use the wheelchair ramp and bike rack. Boarding the bus, we show them how to use the fare box. When seated, they see where the mobility devices are properly secured, how to use a stop request cord, proper bus etiquette and rules, as well as safety on and off the bus because safety is the main focus of our program. We also have the operator take us for a short ride so students can feel what it’s like to be in a moving bus. This may be a new experience for the students as well as the teachers; the majority of the people that we work with in class have never been on a public bus.

During the third visit, we take the class on a field trip to our Robert K. Pfaff Transit Center. The trip starts with teaching pedestrian skills needed to access the bus stop.  This again gives us a chance to emphasize safety in all facets of their trip.  We the ride the actual route necessary to get to our destination, which is an eye-opening experience for many. Once at the transit center, we will give a tour, including where buses pull in, our security office, the customer services area, and where Greyhound and other transit authorities are located. This also gives the students a chance to see the inner workings of our environmentally-friendly facility. We will then have lunch in the Community Room and take a return trip back to the school.

Additional visits to the school may be held should they be requested. Additional visits may include assistance with field trips, learning how to access our website and trip planner, or a refresher course.

 2.  How do you reach out to the schools?

We attempt to reach schools through transition programs.  We have worked with all types of schools and classes throughout Summit County as well as many agencies. Throughout my time with METRO, I have seen an increased demand for knowledge and information about public transportation and word of mouth is probably our greatest tool in reaching a large segment of our community.  My coworker, Nicole, and I also attend many school and community events.  We provide travel training information on our website and through many other community resources.

 3.  Why is it important for a transit agency and school district to have these connections?

When I talk to groups, sometimes I talk about my life before METRO and life with METRO. Prior to METRO, I had never been on a bus and knew very little about public transportation. Because of this, I’m able to relate to the passengers when they have all this new information given to them at once.

I will always remember something my boss told me when we first developed our travel training program—a person cannot truly be an equal member of their community if she doesn’t have a way to get around. Many people take transportation for granted.

It is extremely important for a transit agency to be active in the community; the community supports us. A person may not need us today, but he may need us tomorrow. He may need us for a few days or may become a lifetime rider. I am supportive of the schools as the students are our future riders. It is rewarding to have developed such solid relationships with the schools and other groups we serve. On a personal level, at the end of the day I feel like I accomplished something and made a difference with someone.

4.  How has being able to use more than one mode of transportation—both a school bus and a public fixed-route bus system—affected the students? What have you heard from the students themselves?

Using the school bus and the public fixed-route system are extremely different from each other, which is why we address this during training. The students are surprised to hear that other cars on the road do not have to pull over for public buses like they do school buses, among other things, which is why safety is such the largest part of training. I believe that having access to a school bus and the public fixed-route bus system gives the students choices, flexibility and, most importantly to us, it gives them independence. The school bus may not be available due to hours or staff constraints and is only for school-approved use. This is where public transit comes in as another option for the students to take field trips or to use outside of school. However, if a fixed-route line is not in service when the student would need it, the school bus could be an option. We teach students to look ahead and have a “Plan B”. While working with one school, we were able to do a trip but would have been unable to return to school in time on the line-service bus. So we put our heads together and the teacher arranged to have the kids go back to school on the school bus.  This way the students had the opportunity to go on the trip but also be able to have the experience of riding a public bus. This was great collaborative thinking and an integral part of our travel training program.

 5.  What advice do you have for school systems that are considering working with a mobility specialist to help their student learn how to use different modes of transportation?

Some people may be hesitant about riding public transit. Even with supervision, we have to remember that it may be a hard decision for some parents and educators to put their children or students on the bus.  For some, this experience can be overwhelming and intimidating. However, highlighting safety as the number one priority of training may help to alleviate some of these concerns. 

Students will learn pedestrian safety, stranger awareness and other life necessary skills during this training. By teaching these essential skills in our travel training program the student may become more well-rounded.  These skills may include socialization skills, time concepts, as well as money management.

Being proficient in various modes of transportation broadens the area a person can access.  We believe that our program gives students a perfect blend of safety and independence as a first step to becoming an equal member of their community.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for all of the knowledge you have shared! I have a much deeper respect for METRO. It is nice to see that you are so involved in the community. More businesses should be as involved in our youth as you are! Riding public transportation can seem scary at first but Im sure your program makes it a much more comfortable experience for new riders!