Seventy-seven year-old Verna sits on a vent in the lobby outside the offices of DaVita Dialysis at Crozer Chester Medical Center. Her treatment ended a few minutes before 8 a.m. but nearly two hours later, she is still waiting for her ride home.
On a bitterly cold mid-March morning, the doors open a few times shooting an Arctic blast into the area Verna, and others who finished dialysis, sit in heavy coats, hats, and blankets.
They are waiting for a ride home from Community Transit, a private, nonprofit transportation company certified by the PA Public Utility Commission to provide demand-responsive service to the general public.
Passengers must first become registered before scheduling a trip and advance registration is required that is scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. Trips must originate in Delaware County but destinations may be in Delaware County and Philadelphia (trips to Montgomery and Chester counties and other surrounding counties are more limited.)
“Oh my God, it’s absolutely terrible. If it snows just a little bit they don’t bring us in. We could die not coming here,” said Verna, a Boothwyn resident who not only struggles with kidney issues but is partially blind and diabetic. She prefers to get home from dialysis as soon as possible to eat to avoid feeling shaky.
Many dialysis patients do not have other forms of transportation and rely on Community Transit.
April, a dialysis patient for 17 years, echoes the sentiment of many waiting with her this frigid morning when she says Community Transit is supposed to pick them up at 10:30 a.m.
“They decide to do whatever they want to do to people. I guess because there isn’t no other competition, they make us sit here and wait,” said April, a Chester resident who is finished by 9:30 a.m. and usually waits for pickup until 11-11:30. “It’s not fair to us. We should be able to go home.”
“It’s lousy. Every now and then they are on time. Not too often, though,” said Eleanor, who has been coming to dialysis for two years. “They are just going by the manifest. The computer threw everything off.”
Verna, April and Eleanor each go to dialysis three days a week. Most have noted problems throughout their entire experience, such as driver turnover, but have noticed the biggest difference since a new computer system was installed.
When asked about the wait time issue, Lisa Soltner, chief operations officer at Community Transit, didn’t deny it, but provided reasons.
“If the driver gets there at a scheduled time to pick (passengers) up, and they are not ready, it’s whenever (the company) can get a ride back to them. There may be another Community Transit bus there, but it doesn’t mean they are going anywhere near the direction of (the waiting passenger’s) home,” commented Soltner. “We do our best to get people as soon as possible; it just doesn’t always work in conjunction with what’s the timetable the passenger wants.”
She said Community Transit was experiencing an “extreme” driver shortage and has combined runs. It becomes more difficult to hire drivers when the economy slightly improves and the company also has a strict hiring policy.
Riders waiting for “hours,” however, are not because of the driver shortage. Soltner cited Ecolane, the PennDOT-mandated paratransit scheduling and dispatching software which Community Transit went live with in June 2015.
“Sometimes, it’s just (that) we used to have a better ability to be flexible in the older computer because there was no accountability for on-time performance. Now, they are much more regulated in terms of performance,” added Soltner.
Community Transit serves 600-700 people per day. “We are under pressure to do everything as efficiently as possible to serve as many people as possible,” said Soltner.
In cases of long wait times, Community Transit examines when the trip was scheduled and if the rider was located, among other protocols. According to Soltner, if a driver is running late, hopefully they already know and are doing their best to get someone there as soon as possible.
“We cannot cater to (passengers) the way they want to be catered to. The old system allowed a large amount of catering. We can’t do that anymore,” said Soltner.