Whether we travel two miles to the doctor’s office or ten miles across town to shop, many of us depend on paratransit services to get us there. Now I know we’ve all had our share of long wait times and bumpy rides that feel like we’re wandering around in circles. Most of the time, our trips proceed smoothly from one curb to another.
If you’re like me, you spend much of your travel time streaming some podcast or music over your phone or daydreaming. All the while, your driver keeps in touch with home base about his or her whereabouts, gets directions through an unfamiliar part of town, or is rerouted because someone on his manifest canceled their trip. So who is this driver anyway?
The writer in me loves hearing good backstory. So when meeting the newest pair of hands steering me through town, I love getting a glimpse at who they are. Since so many people lost their jobs due to the COVID pandemic, many new-hires are people simply needing to make ends meet at home. They’re single parents to retired office workers who needed something to keep themselves active. Some drove kids on a school bus or delivered a company’s packages cross-country. Especially here in Fort Wayne where I live, many long-standing driverstalk about how the area’s changed while the people have kept that small town vibe.
In any case, paratransit drivers have usually passed two levels of their CDL test and taken special classes on best practices when assisting people with many types of physical disabilities. They learn how to strap a wheelchair in place so that it won’t slide at every stop. Many transportation companies train their drivers in how to lead a blind passenger on their elbow (sighted guide) when showing him to a building’s front doorway. Most have received proper etiquette for respecting the rights of passengers who use service animals. And every conversation they have with us is potentially their latest on-the-job training since we riders each have our own preferences, pet peeves, and personal space.
A paratransit driver’s hours may string together in one long shift or come in two shorter stints. In either case, their pay usually doesn’t reflect the toll that driving so many miles along with leaving and returning to their seat takes on their body. Some might call their work thankless. While some enjoy the work in between two more lucrative careers, others have driven the specialized vans for decades. Like any other county or city worker, they do get a good health benefits package, paid time off, and a chance to move up the ladder into being supervisors. Some take overtime hours to drive the public city buses.
For all this, we say, “Thank you,” to our paratransit drivers who take us to themall, to work, to church and so many other places we need to go when navigating life’s contours.