Inoperable phones caused a problem for three days this week for the Area of Richmond Transit and the people it serves.
ART is a non-profit public transportation service in Richmond County that offers rides to residents for a small fee. Once residents are dropped off, they call the service to come back and pick them up. Earlier this week an accident resulted in a utility pole getting “clipped,” which wiped out ART’s telephone service entirely for three days.
The break in communication caused residents who use the service some problems, including leaving some of them waiting on rides that never came.
Helen Sugg, a 70-year-old Rockingham resident, was accidentally left at the Food Lion on U.S. 74 (East Broad Avenue) Dec. 18, after being dropped off to do some grocery shopping. Sugg, who lost her right leg due to a medical condition, has a power wheelchair which cannot fit in a regular car. She relies on ART’s lift-equipped vans to transport her and her power wheelchair to various places.
The service dropped her off at 11 a.m. but when she called them after she was finished shopping, she received no answer. “Clerks at Food Lion called and called but nobody answered,” Sugg said.
Waiting for hours, she said she watched out the window for the service to come pick her up. “It’s very upsetting to watch the buses go up and down 74 and none of them come and pick you up.”
No one needing ART’s services could reach its office because of the lost phone service.
“Tuesday was a disaster. We did everything in our power and worked as hard as we could,” said Johnnie Morman, Assistant Transportation Director for ART.
Morman attempted to ease the problem by telling drivers to go back and check to see if the people were ready to leave, and by also giving cell phone numbers to DSS and other agencies in case residents called those agencies for help.
Sugg, however, still waited until a customer service supervisor at Food Lion, who declined to be named, went to the ART office and told three people who were at the office about Sugg. The supervisor said she told ART they need to send a van equipped for handicapped transport. “When they got here, they didn’t have a wheelchair bus, they had a regular bus,” she said.
By the time ART got to Food Lion, a produce supervisor’s husband was willing to take Sugg home using his utility trailer for her power wheelchair. The customer service supervisor then sent ART away because a ride had already been arranged for Sugg.
The husband helped Sugg get into his vehicle and then drove her home.
“These people need to be held accountable,” the customer service supervisor said of ART.
By Wednesday, ART had worked out a temporary solution by providing cell phone numbers to every resident dropped off and by Thursday afternoon, the regular phones were back in service.
“I’m afraid to call them now to go anywhere else; I’m afraid that I won’t make it back home,” Sugg said Friday.
This is not the first time Sugg has had problems with ART. In February, she got a ride from the service to take her to a doctor appointment. Her appointment was at 9 a.m. but ART dropped her off at 7:15 a.m.
The doctor’s office was not open, leaving Sugg outside in her wheelchair until 9 a.m.
Morman said, in some cases, because of how the transport service is run, people must be inconvenienced. Using an example, he said if 15 people need to be dropped of at 8 a.m., all 15 people cannot be dropped off at the same time.
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.