Partnership makes more bus stops wheelchair accessible

BY JOHN COX

The Bakersfield Californian jcox@bakersfield.com

Try boarding a bus by wheelchair where someone has parked a car in front of the bus stop. Or there’s no curb cut-out allowing access from the sidewalk to the street. Or there’s no sidewalk to begin with.

Fortunately, these challenges are much more rare in the Bakersfield area than they were even five years ago, thanks to an inter-agency partnership celebrated Monday.

Officials with the Golden Empire Transit District, the City of Bakersfield, Kern Council of Governments and advocates for the disabled gathered at a renovated bus stop along Coffee Road to draw attention to upgrades made to dozens of local bus stops.

With a budget of a little more than $1 million from Kern COG and GET, city workers have targeted 43 bus stops in the city. About 85 percent of them are now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the bus agency reported.

As former Councilman Russell Johnson recalled, the effort began with a single activist who has since left the city. He said the woman’s persistence persuaded him to lead an effort to address the problem of local bus stops’ wheelchair inaccessibility.

The first success, he said, was painting curbs red in front of bus stops, which GET couldn’t do on its own because it lacks the city’s jurisdiction. Next came improvements to sidewalks and curbs, he said, adding the campaign was among his most rewarding accomplishments on the council.

“This was a fun one,” Johnson said, adding he was satisfied to have made sure a “voice got heard.”

Councilman Chris Parlier has helped carry on the effort with cooperation from the bus agency, Kern COG and the input of VOICED, a coalition of organizations advocating for disabled people.

Among the hurdles, Parlier said, was coming up with a list of bus stops in need of attention, then prioritizing work according to need.

“There was a real collaboration with all the entities involved,” he said.

More work remains to be done, GET CEO Karen King said.

More than half a million dollars remains available to fix up an undetermined number of wheelchair-inaccessible stops in areas close to but not part of the city, she said. The agency expects to work closely with the county to get the work done, she added.