Travel training promotes independence and saves costs
Many of us get on our bus or train every day without thinking twice. Some of us who are not morning people (myself included) wake up two stops before our office not remembering how we got there.
Our body knows where to go, has been there many times before, and takes us there on autopilot. None of us were born knowing how to ride transit. At some point, we learned.
For many people with disabilities and older adults, learning how to ride the fixed-route bus or train isn't so easy. However, it can be a life-changing experience.
Stuart Thacker, a recent graduate from Wakefield High School and the first student to graduate from the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia's (ECNV's) new travel training program, summed up what learning how to ride the bus and train means to him. "I'm a free man," he said.
Stuart's high school transition coordinator referred him for travel training before he graduated. Stuart lives near the Pentagon City Metro with his parents, who also rely on public transportation. Before he learned how to ride transit on his own, Stuart had few independent transportation options.
Stuart was nervous when he first started learning how to ride the bus and train. "I was mainly worried about how I could find my way," he explained. But practicing taking transit with his travel trainer, Robyn Bernardy, made all the difference. "The more I do, the more I feel independence," he said. Stuart said he is now ready to be the guide for his mother when they take the train together.
Robyn provided regular one-on-one instruction to Stuart over a two-month timeframe. She was more hands-on at first, but gradually faded into the background allowing Stuart to take the lead and to become more confident.
Stuart learned one route at a time. He now knows how to get to and from multiple locations on his own including the Kennedy Center, where he plans to apply for an internship.
The ECNV travel training program helps people with disabilities and older adults learn to travel safely and independently using public transportation in the Washington area. It teaches travel skills including:
- Identifying transportation options
- Reading maps and schedules
- Planning the trip
- Buying and using fare cards
- Identifying the appropriate bus and/or train to ride
- Boarding, riding, and deboarding trains and buses
- Crossing the street
- Maintaining appropriate behavior
- Handling unexpected situations or problems
The ECNV travel training program is free to participants, and those who complete travel training receive a free reduced-fare SmarTrip card with $50 in fare. Free travel training for those living in Maryland and DC is also being provided by Independence Now, Inc. in Silver Spring, MD and by the District of Columbia Center for Independent Living.
Of course, travel training has its limits. Travel training will not take away the environmental barriers at some transit stops and stations or along the path of travel to those stops and stations. And not everyone who starts the travel training program will be able to develop the skills necessary to travel on their own. Some people with disabilities and some older adults will continue to need to use the paratransit service for some or all of their trips.
But for those individuals, like Stuart, who can learn how to use the fixed-route bus or rail for some or all of their trips, travel training increases independence and opportunities while reducing paratransit costs. And according to Stuart, "It's a blast!"
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