By Bryan Goebel
People with disabilities often rely on BART to get around the Bay Area, especially those who are blind or visually impaired. Another strike next week could make commuting to work, school or a medical provider impossible for some.
Frank Welte rides BART from San Leandro to San Francisco’s Civic Center every weekday with the help of his 4-year-old guide dog, Jeep. He’s an information and referral specialist at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
His commute is typically an hour and 15 minutes from door to door, but during the recent BART strike things got complicated.
“I cannot just hop in my car and drive somewhere if my bus is gone or my train is gone,” Welte says. “That means that I have to be more creative in finding solutions.”
Last time around he was able to take a paratransit van, a service typically reserved for people who can’t physically use trains or buses. His commute took a lot longer because of clogged highways, and he had to leave his dog at home.
“I use a cane well, so I was able to manage well enough, but it was still an inconvenience that I couldn’t use my preferred mobility tool with me to travel to work,” he says.
Lisamaria Martinez moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area for its public transportation. She is legally blind and uses a cane.
“For the first time in my life I was able to go where I wanted to go when I wanted to go and not have to rely on someone to take me there,” says Martinez.
Another BART strike would mean that her commute time from Union City to San Francisco would double, because she has to take a few buses and walk a greater distance to get her 2-year-old to day care.
That’s a three-hour commute each way, all for eight hours of work, she says.