07/28/02 - Posted 11:22:13 PM
By Jon Zlock
MORRISTOWN - Valerie Gilliham likes to take the bus out of town from time to time, to the mall or another store. But she says sometimes the bus doesn't stop for her.
Gilliham, who lives in town, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She has taken issue with Morris County Metro's service, especially its request that she call 24 hours ahead to let the company know that she plans to take the bus.
"Do other people have to call ahead of time to catch the bus?" Gilliham said.
Gilliham, 44, took the bus with no problems on Thursday to go to Kmart in Dover. But in the past, she said, she has been passed up by buses, even when she called a day ahead.
Frank Reilly, director of the Morris County Department of Transportation Management, acknowledged that the call-ahead rule exists. But he said its purpose is to make sure that the bus has enough spots for people who use wheelchairs.
The county's 11-bus fleet is handicapped-accessible, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Reilly said. But each bus only has two spots where wheelchairs can be secured for safe travel, creating the need to call ahead to reserve a place, he said.
"I see where she is coming from, where she doesn't want to call," Reilly said. "But it's such a simple thing to do. It works out for everybody."
The buses are operated by Dover-based PABCO Transit Inc., which runs 10 local service lines. PABCO's treasurer, Tom Stapperfenne, said the company has never received a complaint from people who use the wheelchair services. He said the company does ask people to call ahead, but will pick them up nonetheless.
"Whenever somebody needs it, we have it and we use it," Stapperfenne said.
Gilliham says it hasn't always worked as Reilly and Stapperfenne describe. Even when she called in advance, she said, the bus sometimes has passed her by. And when she does board the bus, she said, there have been times when bus drivers have told her that they don't know how to properly strap her wheelchair in.
Reilly and Stapperfenne said all drivers are trained in wheelchair accessibility, but they promised to investigate the matter if Gilliham files a formal complaint.
Told of their response, Gilliham said she will file a complaint.
"We are humans," said Gilliham, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago.
"We want to take the bus to go to wherever we want. And we want to be strapped on like we're supposed to. I'm sorry it takes time from their busy schedule."
For Gilliham, the issue came to a head a month ago, when she said she quit taking the bus in frustration after she was unable to go to Morristown Memorial Hospital to see her ailing grandmother. Gilliham said the No. 3 bus, which she tried to catch in front of Starbucks Coffee on the Green, didn't stop for her on three occasions. She finally wheeled her wheelchair in front of the bus to stop it, she said.
The driver told her to catch the bus at Headquarters Plaza. Angry, Gilliham said she went home instead.
"I figured I'd just go home and calm down and come back," Gilliham said.
"I just wish that for one day they could live in my shoes."
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