The new bus-route 88 was unveiled to Midtown residents Wednesday night by Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority officials. The shiny blue, red and silver bus carries 28 passengers and has a state-of-the-art wheelchair lift and fold-back seats to accommodate disabled passengers. Many people with disabilities said they not only live far from a bus stop, but will pay triple the fare for using Outreach paratransit service.
"There is a rule in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that controls paratransit. If you live within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed bus route, you are eligible for Outreach. But if you live outside of the three-quarter mile (radius), they are charging three times the normal fare. That cuts out the blind, many of whom are living on SSI. The city and VTA has to keep that in mind," Dawn Wilcox, a Midtown resident said.
Residents who already use Outreach will not be grandfathered in, Lihn Hoang, a VTA spokeswoman said. And riders who live outside the three-quarter mile limit will pay $10.50 each way — $7 more than the standard $3.50 one-way fare.
In May 2007, VTA proposed a plan to eliminate the portion of the 88 line that traveled from the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station, along Channing Avenue, across on Louis Road and along Charleston Road, citing low ridership and a duplication of services with the Palo Alto Shuttle.
Officials restored some of the service in January, but residents said it cut stops to schools and Midtown merchants.
The new route will include more frequent service and service to Midtown and Louis Road plus school commutes to Jordan Middle School and routes on Middlefield and Louis roads to Terman Middle School and Gunn High School. The route drops trips to San Antonio Shopping center and the San Antonio Caltrain station. Hoang said route 35 will serve the area. And trips will be made to either downtown Palo Alto or California Avenue shopping districts. Another bus, 89, offers limited service to California Avenue on weekdays, only during the morning and late afternoon.
Many disabled residents moved to Midtown because it is a "walkable" community, but the shortened route will make services less attainable, they said.
On Wednesday evening, "Jack," who is blind, reflected on the irony of the 88's unveiling.
"This is the closest the bus will ever get to my home," he said.
To shop at the Midtown Safeway, Jack will have to carry his groceries a half mile while balancing his white cane, he said.
"I used to use the 88 that went to Stanford Hospital and the shopping center, but I can't do that now because they eliminated it," he said.
Jack's options shrunk on several fronts when VTA modified service countywide, he added. When service to Menlo Park on the 22 bus was eliminated, Jack lost two sources of transportation. He can't take the 22 to Menlo Medical Clinic where his eye doctor, blood draw and cardiac services are located. And he can't take Outreach because VTA doesn't have a presence in San Mateo County anymore, he said.
Ruth Fisher, who lives near Channing Avenue, said the 88 and 89 buses don't stop anywhere near where she lives. At Channing and Newell, the bus stop was one block from her home. But now she must walk to Middlefield Road to catch the 35 bus.
"I used to meet people who relied on it to go to Stanford or California Avenue or to go to work. I don't know what's happened to them. We've been completely abandoned in this part of town," she said.
Clients at Abilities United, a nonprofit organization serving children and adults with developmental disabilities, have also been adversely affected by the cuts, according to Sheraden Nicholau, Abilities United employment services and independent living skills manager.
"It's a concern. ... Our ILS (Independent Living Skills) instructors had to teach our clients new routes and new ways to go to work, to go shopping and to visit friends and family," Nicholau said. "New ways" of finding transportation may mean arranging transportation or walking further, she added.
Abilities United clients often face social isolation and depend on a monthly social event. But many now have trouble attending due to the 88-bus changes, she said.
Isolation is also a problem for veterans at the Palo Alto Veterans' Affairs Western Blind Rehabilitation Center.
Newly blinded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who stay at the blind center don't have off-campus bus service on weekends because of the changes to the 88 line, said Lila Jaffray, clinical coordinator for the blind center. Veterans are on limited incomes and must rely on taxis to take them to town on weekends, which is often too costly.
"Every Monday morning I come back and I hear them complaining. They've been there all weekend," she said.