It’s been over three months but 77 year-old dialysis patient Verna immediately recognized the face of a reporter she only met once.
“Nothing has changed. I’m still here waiting,” Verna says before a ‘hello.’
On March 22, The Spirit exclusively reported about issues DaVita Dialysis patients at Crozer Medical Center were having with Community Transit (CT), not the least of which were very long waits for shared-rides.
“I hate it with a passion but I can’t do no better. I’m sick of it,” said Mary, a Chester resident who was waiting with Verna for a ride on a recent Thursday morning.
Verna, a Boothwyn resident, struggles with kidney issues, is partially blind and diabetic. She prefers to get home from first shift dialysis as soon as possible to eat to avoid feeling shaky. She, and others, reported routinely having to wait for hours after treatment ended around 9 a.m. before being taken back home by CT drivers.
Many dialysis patients do not have other forms of transportation and rely solely on Community Transit.
On the Fourth of July, CT didn’t pick her up and her daughter took her to dialysis.
“We don’t know how to get in touch with who when the state tells them (CT drivers) they can’t work on holidays,” said Verna.
Paul, a rider with CCT, SEPTA’s Customized Community Transportation, didn’t claim of any problems and said his ride gave him a quoted time of “10:15-10:30.”
“Community Transit don’t pick them up on holidays. That’s terrible,” said Paul as he waited with fellow dialysis patients. “Some don’t have a way (to get to treatment) and miss a day. I’m with CCT and they do run on holidays. It’s the same company but a different division.”
At 10:15, a driver called Paul’s name.
“See, he’s on time,” Paul said.
“…(operations) are determined locally… Providers throughout the state commonly allow transportation on holidays for dialysis and other life-sustaining services.”
Rich Kirkpatrick, communications director, PennDOT
Most Community Transit riders have noted problems throughout their entire experience, but have noticed the biggest difference since a new computer system was installed. CT went live with Ecolane, the PennDOT-mandated paratransit scheduling and dispatching software in June 2015.
Rich Kirkpatrick, communications director of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, explained prior to the Ecolane project, each transit agency procured their own scheduling software system if they chose. It created a lot of disparity across the state in scheduling capabilities, as it was difficult for small systems to procure and keep software running.
Ecolane allowed standard software that maximized productivity across the state by tracking vehicles in real time, see trip history, and allowing customers to reserve trips online in the future. It also promotes regionalization as systems that choose to regionalize are on the same platform and it also allows for cost savings if systems want to regionalize one aspect such as a call center.
“It ensures that we get consistent data and standardized reports,” said Kirkpatrick. “All of this lowers the cost per trip and maximizes the effectiveness of the service. Ecolane provides the opportunity for shared-ride providers to improve customer service through technology such as interactive voice response.”
“The customer response varies from service provider to service provider,” added Kirkpatrick. “Some have seen an improvement, some have seen no change, and others have experienced some issues. If customers do have a problem with their shared-ride service it is important for them to contact the provider, as their issues may not be known. With Ecolane, transit agencies can look into individual trips to make improvements.”
Regarding holiday schedules, Kirkpatrick’s said hours of operation are determined locally for shared-ride service based on their available resources. Providers throughout the state commonly allow transportation on holidays for dialysis and other life-sustaining services.
Tom Giancristoforo, executive director of Community Transit, offered an explanation for some of the delays.
“Delaware County is a very congested county,” said Giancristoforo. “Try to go from point A to point B on a Friday afternoon. The traffic is phenomenal. You can’t use 95 or the Blue Route if there is one mess up. The traffic has gotten worse. It complicates things. Sometimes you have to duplicate things. We do the best we can as far as traffic is concerned.”
He did not address the dialysis patients’ concerns about transportation before dawn to get to their treatment that starts as early as 5 a.m.