TriMet has cut its “will call” ride service for passengers with disabilities. That’s prompting some to worry about getting home from work, school and social activities.
For passengers who cannot take the bus, most rides must be scheduled in advance through the regional transit agency’s LIFT program.
Will call gave those riders another option – they could call for a ride when they were ready to go.
“Normally, you have to tell them when you are going to be done with something,” said LIFT rider Julia Kulack, who is blind and also has an orientation disability that makes it difficult for her to navigate on her own.
In the past when plans ran long, LIFT passengers were able to switch from a scheduled ride, to will call status.
“For example, if I was out in a restaurant with my friends, and I was not sure how long I was going to be … I can relax and not have to worry about rushing through my food,” Kulack said. “I could get dessert.”
TriMet spokeswoman Tia York said the will call system created problems for the transit agency, however.
“In more than half of the calls for a will call pick up, no one was there when the LIFT bus arrived,” York said in an email. “The result was inconvenience to riders who were already on the bus as well as those waiting for a ride.”
She noted that there are a few exceptions to the end of will call rides. LIFT passengers returning from medical appointments or visits to social service agencies can still use will call during limited hours.
“The adjustment TriMet made to the LIFT will call service does not restrict our riders from using LIFT to access appointments, services, shopping or visits with family and friends,” York said. “We are just now asking them to schedule their return trips.”
But Patricia Kepler, who serves on TriMet’s Committee on Accessible Transportation, said she disagrees with that assessment.
Kepler works as an accessibility specialist at Portland Community College, and relies on LIFT to get around.
She learned about the cuts to will call when she had to stay late at work.
“I had a client that needed to see me a half hour before my ride was due. I called to say, ‘I need to switch to a will call because I will not be available at 4:30 today,” Kepler said. “I was told, ‘No, we don’t do will call anymore.’”
TriMet sent a driver to pick her up at the time she had originally scheduled even though she’d called to say she would be leaving later, she said. The transit agency did send a bus later on to take her home. “They’re not going to leave you stranded,” Kepler said. But it also marked her as a “no show” for her originally scheduled ride.
“If a person accumulates three no-shows, you are suspended from service,” Kepler said. Service suspensions last a week after the first three offenses, and get longer for people who are marked for repeated no-shows.
The end to most will call rides was the topic of heated discussion at TriMet’s last Committee on Accessible Transportation meeting, Kepler said.
If nothing else, she said, people with disabilities should have been consulted about the change.
“They should talk to us about it so that we can collaboratively come up with a solution that helps the program financially but also … does not add to the isolation of people with disabilities,” Kepler said.