UNION COUNTY—It’s shortly before 8 o’clock on a Wednesday morning when the van pulls up in front of Joseph Liguori’s split-level home, just as it has countless times before.
Liguori grabs his cane, locks his front door, and makes his way carefully down the front steps to the waiting Union County Paratransit van. Liguori, a disabled veteran, has an appointment to see a doctor at the Veterans Administration hospital in East Orange, as does William Boone, a fellow vet, who is already on the van.
In the afternoon, driver Walter Smith will return to the hospital, pick them up and bring them home. Across Union County this day, paratransit vans will provide upwards of 725 rides to those who have no other way to get around.
Liguori started using the service eight years ago, although he wishes he had known about it long before then.
“I had members of the family who were really sick and my father, who wasn’t feeling well, would have to drive them,” he said.
Last year, the county’s paratransit service provided nearly 221,000 rides to a myriad of appointments, from doctor visits to out-patient dialysis treatments, said Assistant Paratransit Director Helen Kirsch.
With a staff of 45 drivers operating anywhere from 32 to 38 vans on any given day, it is an operation that is in constant motion throughout the week, slowing up only on the weekends, she said.
Vans also make regular weekly runs to local supermarkets, Kirsch said, noting that there has been an increasing number of requests for transportation to adult day care and therapy.
“We are also seeing an increase from the disabled population for transportation to the occupational work centers,” Kirsch said.
For many, the paratransit service, which costs users $1 per ride, is essential. “Cabs are expensive,” said Boone, who goes to the VA hospital in East Orange twice a month and does not have a lot of options in how he gets there.
Because of a seizure disorder, he cannot drive, and his daughter lives in Maryland, he said.
“Life without paratransit would be horrendous,” said Liguori. “I would have to impose on family but I don’t know if they could do it—especially on a continual basis.”
Liguori said he could not imagine how “confined” he would feel if he could not get around this way.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” he said.
More information about the paratransit service is available at www.unioncountynj.org/humansvcs/ptguide.pdf. Anyone 60 years of age and older, or with a permanent or temporary disability is eligible to use the service. To make an appointment call 1-908-241-8300 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
CHECKING HIS SEATBELT…Union County Paratransit van driver Walt Smith checks to see that Joseph Liguori, left, has tightened his seatbelt sufficiently before taking Liguori from his Union home to the Veterans Administration hospital in East Orange.
ONE VET HELPING ANOTHER…Walt Smith, of Union, is one of 45 drivers operating the vans in the Union County Paratransit system. Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, many times drives other veterans to the VA hospitals in East Orange and Lyons. When Smith calls out, “Put your helmet on,” his regulars know it’s time to connect their seatbelts, but if they’re having problems, he is there to help.
ARRIVING ON TIME…Joseph Liguori gets off the Union County Paratransit van that has just brought him to the Veterans Administration hospital in East Orange for a doctor’s appointment. Liguori has used the paratransit system since 2002, sometimes as many as 14 times in a month. Liguori said the system enables him to maintain his independence.
MORNING DOCTOR VISIT…William Boone, left, and Joseph Liguori, back to camera, arrive at the Veterans Administration hospital in East Orange one recent morning. Boone and Liguori, both disabled veterans, rely on the Union County Paratransit system to get to their doctors’ offices, along with other appointments, such as physical therapy.
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