|Approved by the:
|Student Senate April 30, 2015|
Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) appreciates the resolutions from the Student Senate last spring and from the Twin Cities Professional Student Government's (PSG) this fall detailing concerns with the University's campus paratransit service. Providing paratransit service helps PTS meet its goal of promoting campus accessibility.
PTS operates the intercampus transit system, including paratransit, under a general guiding principle. This principle is that Metro Transit, the regional transit provider for the Twin Cities area, as well as other regional transit providers transport students, staff, and faculty to campus; and campus transit circulates riders on and between campuses. PTS partners with Metro Transit to ensure that the U is well connected to the regional network and encourages Metro Transit to provide affordable options to the U community, including deeply discounted transit passes.
MetroMobility, Metro Transit's paratransit service, serves certified riders who are unable to use regular fixed-route buses. PTS encourages students who need off-campus paratransit service to register with and utilize MetroMobility. Additional information on MetroMobility is available here: http://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/Services/Metro-Mobility.aspx.
To keep this service affordable, PTS subsidizes MetroMobility ride coupons for both students and faculty and staff. Students are able to purchase, through PTS, a 150-ride package for $175. The retail value of these tickets is $540.
PTS operates a paratransit service for on-campus travel within a set boundary. The paratransit service is subsidized by parking revenues. Paratransit's primary role is to assist student movement between classes. The core issue raised in the PSG resolutions is geographic coverage. Defining campus boundaries is a sensitive issue. No matter where the boundary is set, inevitably, someone will be just outside of it. This is particularly true as neighborhoods adjacent to campus continue to expand. This year, PTS launched a pilot project that extended paratransit service to the West Bank Office Building. This demonstrated that there are a number of unintended consequences associated with expanding the service coverage area, including:
* Travelling longer distances reduces the overall number of rides available in a day
* Increased wait times for the users
* Unpredictable service interruptions due to changing traffic conditions
Campus paratransit service began as one van in 1997 and has grown over time in response to feedback from the University community. Recent changes include:
* Expanding the paratransit fleet to three vehicles
* Hiring an additional driver during the academic year to provide additional service coverage (now at three full-time drivers)
* Adding on-line scheduling capability, which has resulted in more rides per day
* Expanding service hours to 9:30 p.m. to accommodate night classes
* Exploring the addition of the West Bank Office Building to paratransit service as a pilot program in response to the initial PSG resolution
PTS understands that PSG has requested a pilot program that allows a limited number of riders to travel three blocks beyond the campus boundaries. For the reasons laid out above--a reduction in the total number of available rides system-wide, increased wait times, and unpredictable travel times--PTS is not able to expand paratransit off campus.
The University's current paratransit service goes above and beyond what is required legally by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Sec. 37.25, which specifically exempts public postsecondary institutions from having a paratransit component. Paratransit is a supplemental service to the fixed route service, which is required by the FTA to be accessible. Not all Big 10 institutions have a paratransit system.
Resolution for Increased Paratransit Service Flexibility
1. The Twin Cities Student Delegation asks that the Department of Parking and Transportation (PTS) increase the flexibility of the Paratransit Service to allow physically-disabled students to arrange for pick-up and drop-off at residences (or at locations near their residences) that are on or near the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, at least coextensive with the range of the Gopher Chauffeur.
2. The Twin Cities Student Delegation refers this matter to the Twin Cities members of the Senate Consultative Committee.
The Paratransit Service purportedly provides "curb-to-curb" transport free of charge to persons with short-term and long-term physical disabilities on the Twin Cities campus. Vans pick up disabled persons Monday through Friday, starting at 7:30 AM and ending at 9:30 PM each week day. Disabled persons schedule pick-up and drop-off via an online website. They can choose from up to 200 locations on the Twin Cities campuses.
Students with physical disabilities have found that the pick-up and drop-off locations on campus are too restrictive, such that some students are unable to take advantage of this valuable service. For example, a student in a wheelchair living near campus (in fact, just across the street) was unable to reach the nearest pick-up and drop-off location on the morning of the first snow of winter this year because the sidewalk leading up to the location was too steep and slippery. Even though Land Care attempted to reduce the slipperiness of this location throughout the winter, there were several times when the student could not get up the incline. Consequently, this student was unable to get to class, and the student felt helpless. After emailing Disability Services and PTS, the Paratransit Service was unwilling to pick up the student at the bottom of the inclined sidewalk and bring the student to the student's classroom destination. If the Paratransit Service had a flexible pick-up and drop-off policy, this student would not have had any difficulties attending class and learning the same information as able-body students did.
Other paratransit programs (such as Metro Mobility) service the University area and can pick up students at their residences and drop them off at specific campus locations, and vice versa. However, these services may not be covered by insurance or charge fees. The Paratransit Service is the only free service available to all students. It is purposed on ensuring that all physically-disabled persons on campus can access all parts of our large University.
The University, through Boynton Health Service, already provides rides to students on weekend nights on or near the University, wherever within this vicinity those students need to go. This service, unlike the Paratransit Service, has flexibility.
Given the low number of physically-disabled persons on campus, the costs of increasing the pick-up and drop-off flexibility of the Paratransit Service should be minimum. With the ubiquity of GPS and smart devices, there should be no technical limitation on the ability for physically-disabled students to be picked-up or dropped-off anywhere on or near the University campus. The fact that Metro Mobility can pick up individuals at most locations suggests that the Paratransit Service has the capability to do so as well.
Increasing the flexibility of the Paratransit Service can accomplish many goals in addition to improving accessibility. For example, the Service can be used to ensure students on the North end of the West Bank can access the East Bank via the Washington Avenue Bridge, without the need for an ADA-compliant ramp near Mondale Hall, something the Student Senate unanimously requested in Fall 2014. In addition, some physically-disabled students have stated that they do not feel their needs are taken seriously by the University or that their wellbeing is often an afterthought. As a result, when asked, these same students said that they would not recommend other physically-disabled students attend our University. Not only students, the increased flexibility of this service could benefit physically-disabled faculty and staff as well. We need to ensure the University is open to all, and increasing the Paratransit Service's flexibility is one way to accomplish this worthy and necessary goal.
Lastly, this Senator has been corresponding with PTS since November 10, 2014. Despite this Senator's requests, PTS has not taken any steps to increase the Paratransit Service's flexibility, and PTS has not taken steps (to this Senator's knowledge) to further investigate whether the Paratransit Service can be expanded in this way. A resolution by the Student Senate would make it clear that providing easy-to-use and accommodating services to physically-disabled students on campus is a priority and ought not to fall by the wayside.