Beata Piehl learned that mass transit won’t come to her neighborhood when her disabled son began going to Miramar Community College. For him to catch a bus to his 8:00 am class, she had to drive him to the Scripps Ranch Library by 6:30 am.
During those driving years, she learned about how San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System works – and where it doesn’t. She came to believe that MTS had carved holes in the maps with SANDAG’s blessing – particularly north outlying areas including Scripps Ranch and North Miramar Ranch, where she lives, in a way that freed the transit agencies of their obligation to provide transportation “to seniors, the disabled and people with low incomes.”
“If you aren’t within three quarters of a mile of a transit stop, they don’t have to pick you up,” she said.
MTS spokesman Rob Schupp confirmed the three quarters of a mile limit. Scripps Ranch does have a bus route that operates on weekdays from 6 am to a little after 8 pm. The route starts at Alliant University south of Pomerado Road and winds up the east side of the 15 until Mira Mesa Blvd., where it crosses the freeway westbound and arrives at the Miramar College transit station. It continues north through Mira Mesa. And it doesn’t run on weekends.
That’s the only bus route in the neighborhood. The rest of Scripps Ranch and North Miramar are a transit desert. (there is a bus line that runs on Miramar/La Jolla Village Drive and express buses go up and down the 15.)
Because of a growing population of seniors aging in place and disabled people who can’t drive, Piehl would like to see better access for MTS services in her neighborhood.
Months ago, she floated an informal survey of the area’s transit needs and found that half the people were elderly people who had given up driving. The other half were people with disabilities. “It’s just a nightmare,” she said. “I have elderly neighbors who can’t drive anymore and they feel they are trapped in their homes.”
She has drafted a letter that calls on SANDAG and MTS to expand paratransit services.
SANDAG doesn’t actually do transit, spokeswoman Jessica Gonzales said in an email. That’s MTS’s jurisdiction. But the regional group does have a advisory council that works to increase access to transportation for seniors and disabled people. And SANDAG does award grants to a number of groups and agencies that provide transportation for seniors and disabled people – the current round of grant applications have just begun.
An outlying infirm commuter who contacts SANDAG is sent to a website which links people to rides through social services agencies. But individual agencies have individual missions. Some transport seniors but not disabled people. Others transport only people with disabilities and some are for people with very specific disabilities or medical issues. There’s service focused on serving the blind and another that serves people with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. Many require scheduling a week ahead.
(The cities of Vista and La Mesa have their own ride services.)
But Piehl is not satisfied with a patchwork network – many drivers are volunteers. She’d like to see MTS expand its area and argues that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the agencies are obligated to provide the service.
Her petition asks the SANDAG committee “to recommend and promote the development and use of accessible transportation services within the 92131 zip code area of San Diego.”
She has the endorsement of the Scripps Ranch planning group, and she expects to have Miramar Ranch on board at its next meeting.