By Mark DeAngelis
Regularly at Gompers Employment Services, we go on learning excursions in the community. We have visited everything from sporting-goods stores like Cabela’s and major retailers like Walmart to Channel 3TV to see how things work behind the scenes.
These are more than field trips; they allow our members to see firsthand how other people work and the qualifications needed for their jobs. They also learn work ethics and how to work as a team, the importance of staying focused on a project or company goal — and often they learn about jobs and skills that they’ve never imagined.
The final objective is for members to set new personal goals and learn more about money management, communication and other skills that will make them successful as we help them find independent employment.
Earlier this week, we visited the Phoenix Light Rail Station (on Montebello Street, adjacent to the Chris Town Mall). One of the most important components of having a job is making sure you are there on time to perform expected tasks, and I wanted our members to understand how to make that happen.
Once there, Gompers members Eric, James and Michelle crossed the street with me to approach the Light Rail Station. This is the place where the railcars start their journeys, which take riders through areas of downtown Phoenix into Tempe and Mesa. At this and other light-rail stops, there are ticketing machines to purchase tickets. Three dollars buys an all-day pass — and, as I pointed out to our group, that’s a pretty good value for someone in Phoenix who needs to get to a job in Mesa.
We were fortunate that Transit Field Supervisor Dale Edelman saw us examining the ticket machines and came over to answer any questions our members might have. Dale talked about the various benefits of the light-rail system and showed our members the basics of using the ticket machines. He explained there are a number of questions riders must answer by pressing buttons before the machine will accept payment. Those questions determine the appropriate fares, so it is important to be able to answer them or to bring someone who can assist you. He also explained how light rail can be a real asset to people with disabilities here in the Valley. If they’re carrying proper identification, they can get a reduced rate ($1 or $2) for light-rail travel.
Dale showed us how the train doors are like elevator doors, in that you can press the button at the side of the door and it will open to let you in, even if the train car is not yet ready to go. Also, on each train, there are a few rows of retractable seating (much like theater or stadium seating) which allow for wheelchair passengers to use light-rail travel. The trains travel at speeds up to 35 mph and there are no tie-downs, so it is recommended that individuals in wheelchairs apply the wheel locks on their chairs while the train is moving.
When a train pulls up to the station and opens its doors to let passengers come and go, Dale said, those doors will only be open for 15 seconds before they automatically close so that the train can safely continue its journey. If someone in a wheelchair is looking to board or disembark, it is good to notify the driver, as he or she can activate the door to stay open for a longer period of time.
The train cars begin running at 4:40 a.m. at end-of-line stations — like Montebello, where our members would board. Trains arrive every 12 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; all other hours, it’s every 20 minutes. The last full trip of the day is at 11 p.m., arriving at the opposite end of the line at midnight. Weekend and holiday hours vary.
Dale took us onto one of the trains sitting in the station and showed us the maps of the entire line, so that riders are able to follow the journey and know when their stops are coming up. Additionally, the driver announces each stop over an intercom so passengers know whether they need to get off or keep riding.
Our members were fascinated with their light-rail experience, and each had different take-aways. Michelle learned that she probably would need someone to help her with purchasing tickets. James seemed taken with the display of routes inside the railcar and noted the fact that the doors were like elevator doors in their operation.
“I learned you only have 15 seconds to get on before the door closes,” said Eric, marking an important detail that everyone will need to remember.
More information on light-rail transit is available by calling 602-253-5000.
Mark DeAngelis is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services. DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona.