Disabled riders of HRT's Paratransit service speaking out about frustrations with service

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Posted at 2:34 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 18:53:10-04

NORFOLK, Va. - With a ride costing $7 for a round trip, Hampton Roads Transit's Paratransit system is the most economical way, and often the only way, for people with disabilities to get around.

However, riders tell News 3 frustrations are mounting due to continued mishaps with service.

"We were stranded for over nine hours," said Edrene Butcher.

Butcher and her husband, who is paralyzed, were never picked up by the Paratransit system earlier this month.

"We were left overnight and the ride was inadvertently canceled," said Butcher.

Major problems like hers prompted disabled riders and the grassroots organization Virginia Organizing to speak out for change.

About a dozen riders and supporters stood outside HRT's Norfolk headquarters to voice their dismay with the Paratransit service, a system that serves about 2,000 disabled clients with 22,000 rides a month.

"Paratransit is my only way around town really," said Mary Mathena.

It's a crucial service for Mathena, who is blind.

"One of the main problems we are having is that reservations are outsourced, not locally employed," said Mathena.

Other problems include incredibly early or late pick-up times, reservationists that are outsourced to the Philippines, a lack of communication with dispatch, drivers that are unfamiliar with the area, or drivers that are unfamiliar with disabilities.

"We want to have sensitivity training for drivers," Mathena said.

Representatives with HRT heard the chants outside bus headquarters, feverishly scribbling notes when hearing about the riders' difficulties.

"We understand how important this service is to this community. It needs more drivers to address the demand, and we are working hard to find them," said Tom Holden, a spokesperson with HRT.

Riders hope change is on the horizon, and hope for more respect for those who are faced with everyday challenges.

"No one would want their loved one to experience the cruel, inhumane and callous treatment that my husband was subjected to," Butcher said.

The Paratransit bus system is contracted by a company called Via. HRT's s paratransit advisory committee says they will meet with riders in the coming weeks in hopes to come up with a solution.