Mark Steele knows plenty of people who struggle to get around in Winston-Salem. He’s the executive director at Solutions for Independence, a Winston-Salem-based organization devoted to empowering people in the community who live with disabilities.

Steele, who lives with a disability himself, says that there are several barriers to getting around downtown for those with mobility-related conditions. A recent study by WalletHub ranked Winston-Salem among the worst cities to live in for people with disabilities. The study ranked 182 cities based on economy, quality of life and healthcare. Winston-Salem came in at 176.

“We have a lot of individuals here that access public transportation,” said Steele. “Winston-Salem really tries to make it meet the needs of people as much as they can, but with what they deal with and the money they have, there’s not much room for improvement. There’s a lot of bus stops that aren’t fully accessible. It can take a whole day just to go to one doctor’s appointment, waiting for transportation.”

Steele was thrilled to learn the city had recently applied for two grants that would improve accessibility for people using public transportation in Winston-Salem.

“We’d been in touch with the city a while back about the city doing accessibility studies with our organization, so this is an improvement if they can get these grants,” he said.

“In a city the size of Winston-Salem, you need more riders to make it efficient, but then how do you build up more riders to make it more efficient?” he added. “Our transportation, that is a big barrier for individuals just getting out and having a full, independent life. Just the wait to get a ride and the accessibility of getting to the bus stops can be quite a challenge.”

The funding would come from a $320,000 Innovative Coordinated Access Grant and $360,000 Enhancing Mobility Innovation Grant. If approved, both grants would be supplemented by local funds.

The Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility Grant will fund GPS notifications, mobile scheduling and ticket enhancements to fixed-route services, all of which would allow people to better track and therefore access public transportation.

“This would help individuals who receive door-to-door service through transportation to be able to look on an app to be able to determine when vehicles are close to their home, and it could make a difference for an individual sitting at their door waiting for the bus to come for 20 minutes verses waiting for five minutes,” said Toneq’ McCullough, Winston-Salem’s Director of Transportation, in a recent city council meeting.

“Just the wait to get a ride and the accessibility of getting to the bus stops can be quite a challenge.”

“It would also help as far as the list of services with missed trips and no-shows,” she said. “We think that by individuals knowing how long it will take for the busses to show up, that will help with that type of service.”

The second grant, called the Enhancing Mobility Innovation Grant would fund wireless capabilities on public transportation, including consistent wifi, among other things.

Right now, the Winston-Salem Transit Authority serves Winston-Salem hospitals, educational facilities, shopping centers and attractions. TransAID, which is WSTA’s para-transit service, goes to other areas and serves elderly and disabled populations, specifically.

“Fixed-route buses and paratransit vehicles operate on a frequent basis to often meet demand, but there is certainly room for improvement in terms of scheduling, on-time performance and buses carrying few passengers on a too frequent basis,” said Matt Duchan, the city’s transportation project planner.

“The Department of Transportation has an essential responsibility of ensuring that everyone has reasonable ability to access transit,” said Duchan. “Accessibility is of utmost importance because many people’s livelihoods depend upon public transit.”

The city hopes to hear back about the grants by the end of February and the beginning of March, respectfully. Duchan says they anticipate a year and a half to two years to implement the projects.

“Accessibility is of utmost importance because many people’s livelihoods depend upon public transit.”

“With funding potentially provided by these grants, Winston-Salem would benefit from the technological innovation that would allow for the city to catch up with its contemporaries in providing exceptional service to its riders,” said Duchan. “These programs, if implemented, would address a lot of the safety, security and timeliness concerns that riders have had in the past with WSTA as these projects would be time- and money-savers in the long term.”

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