Special-Needs Riders Endure Slow Service On Paratransit Vans
CASTRO VALLEY (KPIX 5) -- Imagine what it would feel like to sit in a bus for three-plus hours for a 14-mile ride. Then imagine what that's like for a disabled person, who's not able to understand what's going on.
KPIX 5 followed one special-needs passenger for months with a GPS tracking device to find out what's causing the delays.
UPDATE: Disabled Riders' Families Share Nightmare Stories About East Bay Paratransit Service
Like clockwork each morning, Gina Brooke makes breakfast for her special-needs brother Jonathan. And like clockwork every day, he heads out the door at 7:30 a.m. to catch the bus to school. East Bay Paratransit operates the service, to get him to Castro Valley Adult school by 8:30.
It's usually a one-hour trip in the morning but the ride home at 2:30 p.m. is a different story.
"We expect it to have some delay in it, just not so much that he is left on a bus for 3 hours and 15 minutes," said Brooke.
That's what happened one day recently. Jonathan didn't get home until a quarter to 6 p.m.
"He was crying, he was really upset. He didn't say what had happened, because he doesn't have the vocabulary to say that. But he was incontinent on the bus, which never happens," Brooke said.
That was one of the worst days but on many others Jonathan gets home late.
"Once it's beyond 4 p.m., we say where's Jonathan?" Brooke said.
So just how much time is Jonathan spending on the bus? KPIX put a tracker in his backpack to find out.
For two months, KPIX followed him back and forth to school. On average the ride home took about an hour and a half. But, seven times, it took longer and three times it took more than two hours.
We noticed on many of the late days the bus took long detours, down to Hayward, then north and west into Alameda, before getting back to Oakland.
"That doesn't surprise me," said Tanya Coffield with Ala Costa Centers, an adult transitions program for special-needs residents throughout the East Bay.
"They have kept students on the bus for two to three hours just for short rides. And this is not just an occasional thing. This is happening on a large scale to a lot of people. That is totally unacceptable to make anybody do but especially somebody who is developmentally, intellectually disabled, somebody that might need support in speaking up for themselves or someone that might need to use the restroom," said Coffield.
"We have standards that we strive to meet each and every day," said Jay Jeter, general manager of East Bay Paratransit, a subsidiary of Transdev North America, the private company that runs the system for BART and AC Transit.
"These are people who have disabilities, who may not be able to speak up, who may not be able to be in charge of their faculties. What do you do about that?" we asked him.
"If we get concerns from a rider we try to address those situations, we will make adjustments to the route, we will try to do whatever we can to make sure the ride is safe and as prompt and comfortable as possible," Jeter said.
Coffield says that, from her perspective, that's laughable.
"We have complained to them, we have had families complaining to us and to them about these issues and it has not gotten any better in the four years that I have been at this site alone," she said.
So what about Jonathan?
"Three hours and 15 minutes, that seems like an incredibly long time," we said to Jeter.
"I would agree with you on that, and I have concerns about that ride. We have traffic, road closures, a lot of building, a lot of construction, that slows traffic significantly. I am going to make some adjustments to his routing and we are going to go ahead and make sure that Jonathan gets to and from his location as well as we can," Jeter said.
Back in Oakland, just hours after our interview, Jonathan's Paratransit bus got him home in record time -- less than an hour. Gina Brooke was grateful but can't forget all the others with special needs.
"Is he the only one this is happening to? What is happening to those people who don't have a voice to talk for their loved one? I am wondering how long they are on the bus and how often they are on the bus that long. This isn't acceptable. Something needs to be addressed, head on," Brooke said.
East Bay Paratransit is the only option for people who are not able to take public transportation. Critics say with no competition there's no incentive to provide better service.
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