Since July, Linda Holladay, who is blind, has enjoyed the curb-to-curb service of Flextrans - Utah Transit Authority's specialized bus service for the disabled.
When she leaves her receptionist job at KTVX-TV at 11 p.m., she can count on the Flextrans bus being there to give her a ride home. It saves her calling her mother to pick her up at that late hour or an $8 cab fare.But because of the demand for this service by various disabled groups, Holladay may soon be receiving a letter informing her she can no longer ride Flextrans.
More people want to ride the bus than the new service has capacity to serve, says Kathy McCune, coordinator of UTA's Special Transit Services. Some of those who are blind may have to give up this privilege to accommodate those whose physical disabilities make it impossible for them to use the regular mass bus service.
A UTA advisory board will meet Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. to decide if people like Holladay will be denied service.
To increase the awareness of UTA officials to the needs of the blind, Holladay and about a dozen other members of Utah's blind community appeared at the board meeting Wednesday.
They urged UTA officials to address their needs by expanding Flextran service.
Representing the Utah Council for the Blind, Debbie Bettess said many blind persons have physical handicaps in addition to their blindness. Because blind persons obviously can't drive, they depend on the mass transit system. Many bus routes do not operate in late evening hours.
Recently, a young blind woman who needed a ride home from the University of Utah at 10 p.m. was denied a ride by Flextrans, Bettess said.
The Flextrans buses are expensive because they are built to accommodate wheelchairs. Bettess suggested that vans that are not wheelchair adapted would be less expensive and could easily accommodate the needs of the blind.
Bettess voluntarily gave up her registered spot with Flextrans to allow someone with mobility impairments to ride. She has returned to depending on cabs, the regular bus and friends for transportation.
Flextrans costs riders 50 cents a ride. Without Flextrans, Holladay and Bettess spend nearly a third of their salaries on transportation costs.
Both women find it difficult to ride the regular bus because of their other physical impairments. Holladay has cerebral palsy and Bettess has severe arthritis.
"It's hard for me to climb the bus steps because of my arthritis. Sometimes the driver starts to take off while I'm still standing on the bus. It takes me longer to get on the bus. I feel guilty making the other passengers wait and self-conscious when I know many people are in a hurry," Bettess said.
During the initial stage of Flextrans operation, UTA was quite lenient in qualifying people for the service, said McCune. Not only those with visual impairments, but the elderly, people with developmental disabilities and medical conditions (such as those requiring kidney dialysis treatments) were allowed to ride.
McCune said it is troubling "to see how the blind struggle" to get on and off regular UTA buses.
UTA commits $550,000 each year for transportation for the disabled. With a million dollars from the Legislature, the service could be expanded to serve the blind and other disabled persons, she said.