By Jim Knowles • San Leandro Times
People with developmental disabilities and their families didn’t beat around the bush last Wednesday night.
The bus service they count on for transportation has been letting them down, and they let the transportation company know about it at a meeting in Hayward.
Recently, the people served by the busses have had to wait for hours. In some cases they’re not getting home until 10 p.m. when their program ends at 3 p.m. People complained they’re being left waiting for hours, or that drivers are dropping off disabled people in the middle of the street.
The Regional Center of the East Bay recently canceled the contract of one transportation service, MV Transporation, and hired another, called A-Paratransit. The switch was made to improve poor service, but from what people said, the service hasn’t improved.
Although the manager of A-Paratransit told the crowd that the service would improve soon. He said his company was asked to take the job sooner than expected, and once they have time to hire new drivers and other personnel, things will be better.
But that was not before dozens of people lined up to have their say at the meeting at the Walpert Center in Hayward, a center for The Arc of Alameda County which hosted the meeting.
“My daughter’s safety was not taken care of,” said speaker Maria Wood.
Wood said the bus was two hours late and she saw the driver let off her daughter and not help her out, as needed, and then the driver didn’t even look to see which way her daughter was going around the bus. Instead the driver seemed to be looking down as if he was looking at his phone, she said.
One person after another told similar stories. Several said that they’re not getting a call when the bus is running late, as they should.
“You need to make sure that dispatch is working,” said Reta Hunter. “You’ve got to call the family, and make sure you’re not dropping off down the street, or in the middle of the street.”
The new transit company is touting its technology, that the buses are all equipped with tablet computers, cameras, GPS, and so forth.
Hunter said maybe a little old-fashioned technology might work better.
“You got iPads, that’s fine,” Hunter said. “What you need is a call list.”
Another complaint was that passengers were stuck on busses for 3 or 4 hours and couldn’t go to the bathroom, which is unacceptable for people with special needs.
The Regional Center of the East Bay runs a number of centers for disabled people. The centers are part of the state’s Department of Developmental Services. Under the Lanterman Act of 1969, the state must provide for people with disabilities to live their lives just a non-disabled people do.
The bus service is essential to the clients getting to the centers each day.
The general manager of A-Paratransit, Steve Everson, said he understood what people are saying and his company would fix the problem. They were called in to service a month earlier than expected, and they need a few more weeks to get things straightened out, he said.
Bus Company Manager Promises to Improve Service
Everson said he’s been a driver and he knows the importance of special needs passengers.
“I heard what you said, I took notes,” Everson said. “I can assure you that in the next couple of weeks you’ll see a change.”
The Arc of Alameda County CEO Ron Luter said he was glad people expressed themselves, and he hoped to have another meeting in a few months and see some progress by then.
Luter also thanked the people from the transportation companies who came to the meeting.
“I have to give props to all who came here and faced the music,” Luter said.
Lining up a new transportation system for 600 clients on short notice is difficult, as the new company started on Jan. 4, instead of Feb. 1, as previously expected, said Ronke Sipido, director of community services for the Regional Center of the East Bay (RCEB).
“We tried to ease into a new transportation company but we had to scramble,” Sipido said.
Sipido added this week that she had been having meetings with the transportation company, including with the owner of the company.
One driver was pulled off the route. Sipido said she’s also been talking with the families of the clients who’ve had problems with transportation, trying to get the service straightened out.
More buses and drivers are going to be coming in, said Pricilla Gomez, transportation coordinator for RCEB.
But people who work with the disabled, and their families, said things have to be straightened out right away, because the situation is unacceptable.
Renee Chapman who works at Serra Center in Union City said that doctors have been giving more medication to her clients.
“It’s just because they’re so stressed,” Chapman said, who added that the transportation company’s dispatchers need to be retrained.
Luter said Arc of Alameda County called for the meeting because it advocates for the disabled, and the Arc’s clients are served by the Regional Center’s bus service. The local Arc in San Leandro is one of 700 chapters around the country, started by parents who wanted something better for their children, not an institution.
The Arc has had to pay staff overtime to ensure the safety of its clients until the bus arrives.
Arc CEO Says State Funding for the Disabled Is Inadequate
Part of the problem, Luter said, is that the state is not chipping in as much money as it should for the Department of Developmental Services. So the regional centers are forced to contract with the lowest bidder for services, not necessarily the best service provider.
But Luter said the bus service just has to brought up to par for the clients.
“I was shocked by what I heard (at the meeting) that night, that’s unconscionable,” Luter said.
CAPTION: Families of disabled clients of the paratransit bus service came to a meeting to say that the service needs to improve.
PHOTO BY JIM KNOWLES