Self-advocates Kevin Bath, Thomas Miller and Lisa Rowland-Goldman were tired of the problems they experienced with the LIFT paratransit program and decided it was time to do something about it. So, on April 21, 2022, they attended the North County Transit Department Board meeting to present public comments to share their experiences to urge improvements in the LIFT. Because of their advocacy, changes are being made.
Beacons has been documenting the LIFT experiences of these three advocates and other trainees for several months. Problems have included riders having to stay on the LIFT shuttle for 2 or more hours in order to get to their homes less than 15 minutes away. Other common experiences include significant delays in pick up and delivery to destinations, and countless other stories demonstrating how unreliable this publicly funded option is for those with disabilities who are not able to safely use other public transportation options.
Transportation continues to be one of the major barriers to employment and the community in general for individuals with developmental disabilities. NCTD's LIFT option is a for-pay option that riders with intellectual and other disabilities take to get to work, school, medical appointments and other destinations. Riders pay $5 with the expectation they will be delivered to a destination of their choosing within a reasonable period of time. Riders complain that having to stay on a shuttle for two hours or more to get to a nearby community location, and the persistent lack of reliability in pick up and drop-off times, fails to provide a meaningful public option under the American with Disabilities Act and other state or federal laws.
Learning how to self-advocate is one of the targeted skills of the Beacons PathFinder workshops. After hearing of the trainee's ongoing problems with LIFT, and observing them firsthand, Beacons PathFinder Director Tyler Hershey and other of PathFinder's instructors worked with the Pathfinder trainees to identify the proper forum to share their concerns. After examining options, and because of failed attempts to have their concerns sufficiently addressed by LIFT, advocates decided they wanted to speak directly to the NCTD Board. The Beacons PathFinder team then helped the advocates with their statements so that they could share examples of their personal stories in their own words within the time allotted for public comments.
With unemployment rates in San Diego County around 86%, individuals with developmental disabilities struggle not only to find employment, but also to keep their jobs. Arriving late to training or to work due to unreliable transportation puts the hard-earned successes of many at risk, and often results in significant anxiety due the uncertainty the unreliability creates.
One of the advocates shared how the driver fell asleep while he was in the van, and yet kept his job. Another shared how when he pays for a ride he expects to go home, not on a 2-hour ride down to another person's appointment causing him to be late for other activities.
These stories are just some of the examples of the difficulties people have experienced through the LIFT Paratransit program, which is well known for being unreliable throughout the north county region. Sometimes riders wait for LIFT only to have their scheduled ride not appear to pick them up, leaving them stranded in the community after business hours. The LIFT website states that all trip pickups are supposed "to occur within a 30-minute pick-up window that begins at the negotiated pick-up time," but that has not been the experience of many riders.
In one instance a trainee with diabetes did not get home until 8 pm even though she was supposed to be picked up at 4 pm, resulting in alarm to her family who thought she may have run away. Recently three trainees at Beacons waited over an hour and a half for their LIFT ride to appear, requiring staff to wait after business hours to make sure the trainees had a ride home. On a cold night after one of Beacons' Club Beacons events, the driver arrived late at Beacons, and refused to let the rider in his van because he wanted to take on a 10 minute break in the parking lot of Beacons. Once he completed his break and let the rider inside his van, he then drove a few yards up the parking lot to relieve himself on the wall of the business development while the rider stayed in the van.
Unfortunately, for some riders with disabilities, such as those with developmental disabilities, other public transportation options are not accessible and LIFT has been the only affordable option with its $5 rate. However, the question remains whether a system that is so problematic is meeting the obligations under state and federal law to those riders with disabilities in need of access to publicly funded transportation.
In an attempt to find a solution, Beacons asked the NCTD if it could rent one of LIFT's many unused shuttles to address the transportation needs of its trainees, which would not only reduce the number of problems experienced by those in Beacons' vocational program and working nearby, but also generate revenue for LIFT. Per Beacons president Lucile Lynch, the request was declined outright.
Beacons has also reached out to leaders on the NCTD Board. Lynch believes there are several members on the NCTD Board dedicated to reducing barriers to employment, transportation and the community in general.
"We value the leadership on the current NCTD Board and if anyone can help make solutions a reality, we have confidence that this Board can do it. I just hope that solutions are implemented before one of our trainees loses a job," said Lynch.
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