By Erin Gray
The Meridian Times
For township residents Donna Rose and Karla Hudson, public transportation is not an alternative, it is the only option. They call it their lifeline and it prompted them to move to Meridian.
Rose and Hudson are sisters who are both congenitally blind.
In 2000, Meridian residents approved a .2-mill tax for a curb-to-curb cab service called Redi-Ride. For the past 15 years Redi-Ride has provided transportation to primarily seniors, disabled residents and schoolchildren.
Redi-Ride has not been efficient for residents because of the high demand for the service, limited hours of operation and limited number of drivers, according to Rose. Now residents including Rose and Hudson are lobbying to have the service reviewed and expanded.
Rose and Hudson grew up in Livonia, a suburb of Detroit. “In Detroit, the public transportation system had been really good until the early ’70s,” Rose said. Detroit changed its public transportation system and Rose said the new system was unreliable.
“I can’t do my life without public transit,” Rose said, “On a scale of one to 10 … my necessity of public transit is a 10.” In Rose’s experience, Detroit buses would not arrive as scheduled and the curb-to-curb service for the disabled did not always show up.
Rose decided to move to Ann Arbor to earn her master’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. Rose described Ann Arbor’s public transportation as “wonderful,” and said it was worth the higher price. She was then laid off from her job and moved to Meridian Township for employment, family and public transportation.
Twenty-three years ago, Rose’s sister Hudson moved to Meridian where she lives with her husband and two children.
“My sister and I probably would have loved to stay in (Livonia),” Hudson said, “That is where our family is located, but both of us recognized the need to live in places where we could be more independent and you really can’t be independent in the big city area of Detroit.”
Hudson’s husband, Michael, is MSU’s director of disabilities services and is also blind.He moved to Meridian because of job opportunities and public transportation.
“(Michael) needed to find a place that had affordable accessibility to public transportation and when he looked around the area (Meridian Township) had lots of opportunity,” Hudson said.
The sisters live three blocks from each other. Both have been selected to serve on a Meridian Township workgroup to improve Redi-Ride.
Hudson said that people who are blind or have disabilities that prohibit them from driving have a hard time living in rural areas. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store or picking up kids from school require more planning for those with disabilities than for those who drive.
“Think about it. If you don’t have a car, you have to be able to get to the grocery store and there is not always someone to help you get there,” Rose said, “And if you don’t have somebody that owns a car or lives with you, you’re kind of stuck.”
The Redi-Ride workgroup was formed because of complaints to the Meridian Township Board about the service. Trustee Milton L. Scales said concerns rose at the annual township meeting in October.
Residents including Rose and Hudson said that they were grateful for the service but it was not meeting their needs.
“This is a system we have had for 15 years and we never took a look at it to see if it is currently meeting the needs of our residents,” Scales said. “(Residents) brought up concerns several times and the board, we didn’t act on those concerns.”
This issue became more prominent to Scales after he had received injection treatments in his eyes for a condition called diabetic retinopathy and was without clear vision for a day.
During this time Scales had to rely on friends and neighbors for transportation. Scales said his neighbor drove him to his appointment at Lansing Ophthalmology located at 2001 Coolidge Road.
“After I was done with my appointment I called my buddy …and he picked me up on his way to work …he said he would have his wife take me home and that really made me think about this service that we provide,” Scales said.
Scales said that Redi-Ride would not have been able to bring him to his appointment because Lansing Ophthalmology is outside Meridian Township. The experience made Scales realize how essential good public transportation is to the disabled. “That made it really hit home with me,” Scales said.
Scales, Trustee John Veenstra and Trustee Ron Styka announced the workgroup for Redi-Ride in November.
“As we have heard from people who don’t drive, this is a really necessary and critical service so we have to make sure it is available for people who must use the service,” Veenstra said at the township hall meeting on Oct 27.
The workgroup consists of representatives from schools, seniors and residents. Scales said the group plans to discuss extended hours of operation and expanded boundaries.
Rose said,“If you go out to do something in the early afternoon you might not get a ride back unless you called two weeks in advance,” Rose said, “Who plans their life two weeks in advance? It’s hard enough to plan it one day at a time.”
CATA director of marketing Laurie Robison said that the company will work with Meridian to improve the service.
“We do receive calls from customers regarding the difficulties some may experience as they attempt to book a ride,” Robison said, “CATA will continue to work with Meridian Township and its community group to address the growing demand for this critically needed service.”
Scales said that complaints began when CATA announced a new Delta Township Redi-Ride service operating with earlier morning hours and longer evening hours.
According to Scales, Delta Township received a government grant for their Redi-Ride, which made it possible to have extended hours. Meridian taxpayers wanted to know why they pay more for more limited hours.
“That gave the perception that (Delta Township) had something better than what we have,” Scales said, “People seeing something else that is similar but only better would only drive people to ask us why aren’t we doing what they’re doing,” he said.
“All we want is to have a ride that we are paying for,” Rose said, “I’m glad to pay for public transit services but other communities have a lot more fixed route services than we do so I think they should compensate us by providing a better ride.”