Finding Strength During Adversity

Paratransit Supervisor Lance Durbin has worked in transportation for nearly 30 years, the last nine of which have been at Spokane Transit.

“I’m still kind of a newbie by STA standards,” Durbin said. “You have to be here 10-15 years before you can be considered one of the ‘old guard’.”

Durbin was working in elderly and disabled transportation services before the American Disabilities Act (ADA) was even in effect. But throughout his long career, Durbin has never experienced anything quite like the coronavirus pandemic or its effect on public transportation systems.

So what has changed in Paratransit since the virus’ arrival?

“What hasn’t changed?” Durbin laughed. “Due to a substantial reduction in ridership, we’ve taken on a lot of new and different roles.”

The new responsibilities include performing in-route bus disinfections, delivering vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to area nursing homes and medical facilities, transporting seniors for STA’s new Rides for Seniors program, and delivering meals and other essential supplies for Meals on Wheels – all in addition to providing vital transportation for their ADA-eligible client base.

The partnership with Meals on Wheels began as a result of discussions between STA leadership and their Meals on Wheels contacts last spring. Both agencies were experiencing a similar issue – Paratransit ridership had sharply declined and so had the Meals on Wheels volunteer pool. People were simply staying home. But Meals on Wheels still needed to get food to people who otherwise may not have anything to eat, and STA had both the ability and resources to help. It seemed a natural fit.

“When I learned about the idea for Paratransit van drivers to start delivering forMeals on Wheels, I thought, ‘well, we may not be taking people to get something to eat, but we’re still making sure they get something to eat,” Durbin said.

By the time STA’s successful partnership with Meals on Wheels ended on October 31, Paratransit van operators had delivered nearly 49,000 meals to area residents.

Durbin has noticed that Paratransit ridership has increased over the last few weeks. This is typical as temperatures begin to cool, but Durbin believes other factors may be in effect as well.

“I think people are learning to adapt and are starting to look at coronavirus as an unfortunate ‘given’,” Durbin said. “Instead of not riding at all, they are realizing that they know how to ride the vans safely and can take those trips that are absolutely necessary.”

Spokane Transit has enacted new policies and procedures to protect both passengers and van operators – only one customer is transported per trip, masks are required, passengers are socially distanced from the driver and vans are disinfected between trips.

“We’re also making sure our staff has the resources they need to do their jobs safely,” Durbin said. “Management has really stood up to make sure everyone’s health and safety is top of mind with any operational decision that’s made.”

Ultimately, Paratransit is about linking people with essential services.

“The core customers we serve every day need to get to supermarkets and jobs, but also to dialysis, cancer treatment and other necessary medical services that they can’t get to any other way,” Durbin said. “Knowing that we make that happen is a pretty good feeling.”

When it comes to serving his community through the coronavirus pandemic, Durbin wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This won’t last forever. We’ll get through it together and be stronger for the experience,” Durbin said. “Adversity builds strength. Iron sharpens iron.”

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