A pilot program designed to help Paratransit riders stay in touch with DART by providing free cell phones kicked off Sept. 24.



A pilot program launched Sept. 24 will give a few disabled Delawareans a more convenient way to get in touch with DART Paratransit, and hopefully make that system more efficient and user-friendly.

Through a partnership with Verizon Wireless, 25 DART Paratransit riders received cell phones they can use to schedule pick-ups or notify operators if plans change or they’re running late.

The phones can’t dial other numbers, but they’re programmed to call DART reservation services and 911 with the push of a button. Airtime and the phones themselves are provided free of charge by Verizon.

The Transit-Link program was authorized in June with the passage House Resolution 28, which directed the state Department of Transportation to look for a wireless provider willing to offer the service.

House Majority Whip Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, sponsored the resolution and said the idea for the program came when she heard some DART riders were left waiting for a Paratransit pick-up that was behind schedule, or had no way of letting DART know they were running late and needed the driver to wait for them.

“Many of the people who use the Paratransit service are financially strapped and don’t have the funds for a cell phone, leaving them cut off when they most need to contact DART,” she said.

If a DART rider misses a pre-scheduled pick-up, it can be as long as an hour until another bus is able to come by again, said DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks.

Wicks also said the ability to call and change DART reservations on short notice or let drivers know a rider is running late but still needs to be picked up will help make the whole system more efficient.

“It’s critical that customers be able to contact us to cancel trips or if there’s a change,” she said.

Each time a DART rider misses their bus and another bus has to divert from its route later to pick up that rider, it wastes time and fuel.

If those route diversions can be avoided and drivers can make fewer unnecessary trips, the cell phone program actually could save the state money, Wicks added.

During the program’s three-month pilot period, Verizon will monitor the call patterns of the participants to establish how effective the program is. After the pilot period, participants also will fill out a survey to gauge how well the program worked for them.

Longhurst said she’d love to see the program expanded, but the state will need to find funding, perhaps from the federal government.

Among the first to receive a phone was Dover resident Erlene Bissix, who uses DART on a regular basis and said she is very excited about her first cell phone.

Bissix has had problems changing her DART reservations in the past, and considers the new phone to be a great solution.

“The only way I could call them back was to have someone do it for me,” she said.

With the flexibility provided by the new phone, Bissix is looking forward to going places besides the doctor’s office.

“I’m very happy, now I can get out more,” she said.