Coordinating the Essentials
Januari Brown still chuckles at the silly jokes people make about her name, even though she’s heard most of them many times before – “Hey, Januari, where’s February?” seems to be especially popular with the people she meets.
“I like having a unique name,” Brown said. “But how I got it isn’t all that interesting. My dad just liked the name and my mom’s friend suggested that they spell it with an ‘I’.”
Brown is a Paratransit Dispatcher for Spokane Transit. She started as a reservationist four years ago, providing customer service and booking van trips for ADA-eligible customers who are unable to use STA’s regular buses. Then, after a few years of filling in for dispatchers, she was given a full-time dispatcher position, which she started in January.
Paratransit dispatchers schedule the daily trips for van operators and are the sole line of communication between them and their customers. They coordinate every movement of the Paratransit vehicles and know where they are and where they’re going at all times.
“It’s kind of like solving a puzzle,” Brown said. “We want to assign trips for drivers that make good sense and are as efficient and cost effective as possible.”
Brown had barely settled into her new position before Spokane County began experiencing the devastating effects of the coronavirus outbreak. Paratransit ridership fell swiftly as people began sheltering in place.
Suddenly Brown’s newly established routine was evolving as STA implemented emergency procedures to meet the changing needs of the Paratransit community and help protect both customers and Paratransit’s essential employees.
Now, instead of scheduling shared rides for customers, Brown schedules rides with only one passenger and one van operator onboard.
“On one hand, with more people staying home, there are less trips to schedule, and that can make things easier,” Brown said. “But it creates challenges for scheduling rides that aren’t shared.”
The types of calls Brown receives from customers have also changed. People are worried about whether or not their trip is considered essential or that STA will stop offering Paratransit service altogether.
“I assure them that Paratransit will remain open, and that we are here to get them where they need to go,” Brown said. “I also remind them to wear masks. These people are going out into the community and need to protect themselves as much as they possibly can.”