JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winkler and several other disability advocates and paratransit experts recently spoke at a Senate Select Committee hearing on the challenges faced by those with disabilities who use New Jersey Transit ‘s public transportation system. The Committee was created and chaired by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
During recent years, the system and those who run it have faced criticism from riders and lawmakers alike. To that end, Governor Phil Murphy has acknowledged that there is work to be done and has allocated funds to make improvements.
This third hearing was an opportunity for those with disabilities and those who represent them to address the specific challenges and performance issues which are of greatest concern to those who depend on NJ Transit.
As Executive Director of JESPY House, a South Orange-based nonprofit which advances independence for adults with disabilities, Winkler is intimately aware of how NJ Transit’s deficiencies impact JESPY’s clients, especially those who depend on Access Link, NJT’s paratransit system, to get to and from work.
“If your shift starts at 9 a.m., which many of our jobs do, the only available pickup is 6 a.m. or 10 a.m.,” she explained. “So, either the clients have to go early and wait somewhere for two hours until the office opens, or they can’t take that job.”
She shared concerns regarding pick up schedules as well. “The vans arrive in many cases before the clients’ shift ends, causing the clients to feel as if they’re being rushed to leave work early. These situations all reflect on the type of employee you can be for a particular employer.”
For JESPY clients, full-time work equates to a life of greater independence. It is therefore very frustrating for JESPY clients who want to work full-time to have to settle for part-time work because of inadequate transportation.
Her statements and the issues she shared were part of an ongoing discussion regarding problems that JESPY clients have had with Access Link. In the winter of 2018, several clients, along with Winkler, presented those concerns at a NJ Transit Board meeting.
Winkler’s complete NJ Transit testimony acknowledged improvements to the system that have taken place over the past year; and included client incidents; accessibility and weather-related concerns; and time-window availabilities.
Senator Sweeney called the Special Committee together this past fall. Other participants at the latest hearing included representatives from ARC of New Jersey, Rutgers University, NJ Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights New Jersey, Community Access Unlimited, Abilities Solutions, Progressive Center for Independent Living, and NJ Statewide Independent Living Council.
Established in 1978, JESPY House serves 250 adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 72. Visit jespy.org to learn more about JESPY’s specialized programs and services.