The Utah Transit Authority recently honored disabled riders and the operators who go the extra mile to serve them.

The disabled riders selected to receive the 2008 "I Choose to Use UTA" awards are Paul Lapetina, Troy Roper, Shirley David and Claire Anderton.

The four are being cited for having made the choice to learn to ride the accessible-fixed or existing-route buses and trains to complete their community transportation needs.

Anderton, who is deaf and has taken the bus for 26 years, said after the ceremony that these days her only impediment is that she sometimes must write down an address or destination for the driver. Her outings to the doctor or to go shopping are pretty much routine, which she believes would be the case for most disabled riders.

"There's no reason to be afraid," she said. "Get on the bus and be independent."

David, also deaf, said she has been riding UTA buses and has added TRAX over the past seven years. She said she sometimes writes down addresses, as well sometimes, and still manages to get to church, to classes at the deaf center and to meet friends. She likes to use the bus to go shopping, to church and the Deaf Center for classes or to socialize.

She said she has become so comfortable with the system, she has helped others learn the routes and times.

Lapetina said he wouldn't get around town at all without UTA, noting that he uses it for commuting and for fun, and that it's about as handy as a car is to most people.

Roper, who has multiple disabilities from a motorcycle accident, said he has been using public transit for about a year but says he's an old hand at it, taking TRAX and the new FrontRunner commuter train to Ogden and back. He regularly attends to meetings at the Capitol and with members of the Utah Traumatic Brain Injury Association.

His message for other riders: "If I can do it, you can too."

Disabled riders have been known to be less than enthusiastic about UTA service in the past. Authority executives and planners have been criticized by disabled riders — the most public transportation-dependent customers UTA serves — for altering routes or changing schedules.

Monday, UTA highlighted some of the things it offers to help disabled users, including curbside pick-up services, accessible fixed route service, and even "ride-a-long buddies" for new users. The agency is 100 percent disabled accessible with 69 light-rail vehicles, 30 commuter-rail cars and more than 600 buses

Along with users, UTA honored drivers who help with disabled service. They were:

• Kevin Lake, the Going Extra Mile Utah County Paratransit operator, was recognized for his service and abiding good nature.

• Trent Fitzgerald, a motor technician, provides a critical communication link between the shop and transit operators, which reduces a vehicles downtime chance of mechanical failures.

• Laurie Dutcher, UTA Flextrans operator, was honored for being for being as friendly as she is efficient, for always being conscientious of her passengers' comfort, and being aware of the health limitations of her riders.

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