NEWARK, NJ — On Wednesday, Dec. 12, JESPY House Executive Director Audrey Winker, along with several JESPY clients, parents, staff and a board member, attended an NJ Transit board meeting at One Penn Plaza East in Newark. The issues of concern they presented to the board related to Access Link’s “dismal service, poor reliability, rude interaction with customers and overall neglect of those with disabilities,” according to a press release from JESPY House.
“I am here today to advocate for all of our 250 clients that are riders of your transportation system called Access Link,” Winkler said. “This transportation system is to help those with disabilities. Here in Essex County we have found the service to be horrible.
“Eighty percent of our clients work in many towns throughout Essex County and beyond,” she continued. “An example from one our clients is very disturbing. She was commuting from Union County to South Orange, saw her house being passed by twice and asked the driver to let her out; he refused and proceeded to go to Secaucus and Wayne, returning many hours later to South Orange. She was crying and asked to be let off because she had to go to the bathroom, and he still refused.”
After relaying other client experiences, Winkler went on to express disappointment over what she called Access Link’s repeated unwillingness to have a question-and-answer session with JESPY and its clients. That is why she stressed the need for the removal of Access Link’s current management team, citing their inability to resolve these concerns.
Robert Slater, an employment support supervisor at JESPY, underscored the necessity of Access Link for clients who have jobs and need transportation.
“In some cases, my job coordinators have to rearrange clients’ work schedules just for transportation purposes,” he said. “This is due to the irregularity and lack of dependency of the Access Link schedule, which can often result in a client getting less hours and days of work, or even worse, losing their job.”
Slater said he often has to call Access Link to assist clients with scheduling their rides because their phone system is not easily usable or accessible to a number of clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
JESPY board member Ahadi Bugg-Levine echoed some of the concerns discussed by previous speakers and relayed the importance of focusing on the future.
“We want to be part of the solution,” she said. “There is technology out there that makes ride-sharing more efficient. Let’s work toward that. But please know that we will continue to advocate for our clients. You must take this seriously.”
Steve Myers, a long-time JESPY client, was one of several clients to speak.
“Sometimes Access Link gets me to my job late and sometimes they pick me up late,” he said. “I have been taking Access Link for a long time, but it’s just not helping. How can any of us keep a job with this horrible service?”
Another JESPY client, Nancy Jacobs, expressed concern over the impatience of Access Link drivers. “I have to stand outside for NJ Transit in all types of weather because I cannot do the stairs easily,” she said. “They only wait for five minutes. That’s not enough time to get outside. Plus, when I call for a ride, I am on hold for an hour or more.”
After hearing of the clients’ issues, traumatic incidents related to Access Link and overall serious impact to their way of life, NJ Transit Board Chairwoman Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said, “We appreciate that you came here. We know that it took a lot for you to stand here and share the things that you’ve experienced. That’s not easy. We will meet to address your concerns.”
Photos Courtesy of Sonya Kimble-Ellis