Tuesday May 06 2008
Guides get riders on board
By: Lauren Weber The Press-Tribune
Ambassadors take fear out of public transit
For first-time public transit users, the thought of catching the bus can be somewhat frightening. That’s where a transit ambassador comes in handy. They can help people plan trips, familiarize riders with the system, encourage public transit use and provide one-on-one assistance for anyone who needs it. The Transit Ambassador Program of South Placer County began approximately a year ago because of a growing need to inform the public on transit. “Over the years, we’ve heard people say ‘I see these beautiful busses all over the city, how do I use them?’” said Jeannie Gandler, transit ambassador technician for the city of Roseville. “We felt like we needed to be proactive.” Gandler said her current team of five ambassadors takes the fear out of public transportation. A common negativity toward transit is confusion – confusion with the maps, the routes and how to get from one place to another. “There’s a real need to reach people who don’t know how to use it,” Gandler said. To get the public on board, ambassadors plan to introduce people to their services throughout the summer at Roseville’s Downtown Tues-day Nights, with tables at Westfield Galleria at Rose-ville and monthly outreach programs encouraging Sierra College students, senior citizens and everyone in between on how to use the bus system in south Placer County. Currently, transit ambassadors help people who request help mapping out a trip on the bus or first-time users who request someone to accompany them on their outing. But Gandler’s program goal is to have ambassadors ride the bus with riders, answering questions, assisting and providing presence on the bus all the time. “We’re just there to smooth the bumps,” Gandler said. Transit ambassador Hazel DeFarcy is one of the four senior citizen volunteers who Gandler said wanted to learn transit before they had to. “I knew I was going to have to give up my car eventually,” DeFarcy said. She had limited experience with the bus system in Roseville, but is now able to provide support for others. “Always go with a pal,” DeFarcy advises passengers until they feel comfortable. Sarah Wong, a transit ambassador, agrees with DeFarcy. “I think it’s more comfortable to ride with someone until you get use to it,” she said. Wong has been using public transit for more than two years, in part resulting from the increasing gas prices and became an ambassador because of the enjoyment she gets from helping people. Gandler said she’s always looking for more transit ambassador volunteers and the only qualification is enthusiasm to be trained on transit. Willingness to learn and having a heart for helping people are the qualities Gandler said are important for ambassadors. “Ask me how to ride the bus” is enscribed on the back of ambassadors’ navy T-shirts, showing their readiness to help. They’re also equipped with a photo identification badge and white reflective armbands to be easily identified. The program, although it welcomes anyone needing assistance, is geared toward senior citizens. “The key is taking it slow and getting familiar with the system before you lose your privilege of driving,” Gandler said. Some of the best advice she gives to senior citizens is to look at a map, find a bus route that goes near their residence, get on, ride the loop and become familiar with the stops. “You need to plan ahead when you’re using transit,” she said. DeFarcy agreed, adding that having a plan helps navigate the bus system. “Many people are afraid of having to do those steps,” she said, which include looking at the map, deciding on a route and getting from point a to b. Maps are not only shown at many of the covered stops, but map books are conveniently available at public centers such as the Maidu Community Center. For Gandler, her goal is not only to educate people about the use of public transit, but for people to feel comfortable riding the bus and getting to where they need to go. “I just want to encourage people to give transit a try,” she said. To become a volunteer for the Transit Ambassador Pro-gram of south Placer County or for information about using public transit, contact Jeannie Gandler, transit ambassador technician, at 746-7889 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.