The reasons people avoid the bus vary — everything from the choice to use their own vehicle to, potentially, actively avoiding it because of misconceptions, like that it’s dangerous. In fact, according to the public transportation advocacy group TransitCenter, ridership is down on the whole nationwide. Private car use is the biggest reason.
“There’s always a stigma with public transportation that it’s dangerous, and we’re really trying to ease that,” said C-Tran Travel Trainer Jade Dudley. The 30-year-old Washougal resident and Pennsylvania native is one of two C-Tran employees whose jobs are solely to help people learn how to ride Vancouver’s bus system without fear. “I think having a person go with you and guide you through that instead of doing it on your own relieves a bit of that tension and apprehension,” she said.
In the job for a year and a half, Dudley likes to focus much of her work on seniors and people with disabilities, a growing demographic of people who need access to public transportation. She’s currently working with six people. Navigating it on their own helps them to be independent, as caregivers may have limited hours and mileage. Travel training programs were initially developed in the 1970s and are available at agencies around the country, but according to a 2017 report on these training programs by the National Center for Transit Research, many are still in their infancy. Dudley said the C-Tran training program was first handled by a driver and a dispatcher part time, then became a full-time job about six years ago.
On Wednesday, she met up with a regular client, 21-year-old Nate Habtom, of Vancouver and who has cerebral palsy — a disorder that affects someone’s ability to use their muscles. Habtom cannot drive on his own and uses a wheelchair. He connected with Dudley through the Crestwood transition program via Mountain view High School, which he graduated from this year, he said. He likes to use the bus to visit his grandmother in Battle Ground, but is increasingly interested in exploring other areas in the region. But he’s not ready to go at it alone. He has met with Dudley more times than either of them can recall at this point, trying new routes and repeating them until Habtom commits them to memory and is confident to go alone.
“I knew a little bit, but after I met Jade I knew more. Before I met her the only way I knew how to take the bus was to the Vancouver Mall or to Battle Ground. But after I got to know Jade she helped me figure out other shortcuts,” said Habtom, who was accompanied by his 8-year-old brother, Abel. That day, they would take a quick trip from C-Tran’s Fisher’s Landing Transit Center to TriMet’s Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center in Portland, a route that Habtom hadn’t navigated before.
At the moment, he’s looking for a job. In the future, he hopes to be a model, with his eyes set on Nike, he said, wearing an all-blue Nike outfit. At this point, he and Dudley have cultivated a bonafide friendship.
The Columbian asked Dudley, who wears white streaks in her short haircut and has an infectious laugh, what’s involved with being a travel trainer to gain more insight into this little-known program, which last year helped 60 people.
So tell me about your background, how did you end up here?
I am a transplant, as they call them. I’m originally born and raised in Northeast Pennsylvania, in Scranton. Without getting too deep into my history, I was working at a nursing home in Pennsylvania and I was really jonesing to get back to the West Coast. I had lived in Long Beach, Calif., for a year prior to going to grad school for gerontology and was doing activities at a senior center there. I was looking for positions and I applied for an AmeriCorps position out here that was doing community outreach for an organization called SWEAP, which is Southwest Washington Elder Abuse Prevention. I did that for a year and then one of the people who I was working with told me about this position that was opening up. I applied and got the job.
This is different than elder care. Were you looking to transition out of that?
I have always been drawn to and passionate about working with people in underserved populations, and especially seniors and people with disabilities. So I’ve always made my way back to doing that somehow either with both demographics, or one or the other. When I learned about this position and what it entailed I’m like, that’s perfect. It’s working with seniors, it’s working with people with disabilities and it’s helping them gain or maintain independence. There’s really no greater gift than seeing that spark for them.
So what exactly does your job as a travel trainer entail?
Well, no two days are alike. What my role is with the organization is to connect with seniors and people with disabilities specifically, but we also work with anyone who wants to learn public transportation. Those are just the demographics we reach out to mostly and connect with and teach them how to access and utilize public transportation. We go between Vancouver and in Portland. We even go as deep as, well, the furthest I’ve been is Clackamas Town Center from here.
How long are you generally working with someone?
That’s all individualized. I have had people I’ve worked with just a one-and-done. They were just like, “Look I don’t want to do this the first time alone. I can figure it out, but I just want someone to come with me the first time I do it.” Then they’re off flying and riding the bus everywhere. First I might go with you side by side the whole trip, then I might sit in the back of the bus the first time and you sit in the front. Then I could potentially meet you at the destination. Then I will follow in a vehicle behind the bus when you take the trip independently, then I secretly follow you another time and see how that goes. Usually that’s the process.
What are the biggest challenges in your job?
One of our challenges is connecting with the senior community. That’s been a big challenge for our program. People I work with are super surprised to hear that this program exists, just as I was when I went for the position. I was like people do that? People teach you how to ride the bus? Where was that when I was trying to ride the bus? And I think, protective parents. I work with a lot of students and people with disabilities, and the parents or the guardian has had to protect them their whole life (have a hard time) pushing them out of the nest a little bit and trusting me to take their child out and trust that I can judge that they’re safe to do this.
WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY
Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Lyndsey Hewitt:
email@example.com; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.
Fisher’s Landing Transit Center
3510 S.E. 164th Ave., Vancouver
Contact: To get in touch with a C-Tran travel trainer, call 360-906-RIDE (7433) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. There’s no eligibility requirement, and it’s free.
Revenue: C-Tran’s budget for Travel Training, according to spokeswoman Chris Selk, equals $246,144, or 0.4 percent of C-Tran’s total budget. Grant revenue funds the majority of that dollar amount, she said. According to C-Tran’s budget, which is accessible online, in 2015-2016 it received $15.3 million in revenue from passenger fares. Last month the agency saw 565,979 passenger trips; in all of 2018, according to recordkeeping at The Columbian, the agency saw 6,215,778 passenger trips.
Number of employees: Two employees make up C-Tran’s travel training department, Jade Dudley and Veronica Marti.
Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Outlook: The bureau doesn’t specifically track the travel trainer occupation, but Dudley’s job working with seniors and those with disabilities could apply to health aides or personal care aides. The bureau projects it to grow 41 percent through 2026. “As the baby-boom population ages and the elderly population grows, the demand for the services of home health aides and personal care aides will continue to increase,” the bureau reports. C-Tran pays travel trainers between $21.01 to $27.46 per hour, according to Selk.