Shuttle buses to be wheelchair accessible in fall 2017

The transportation department shows off the new buses on Fairfield Way. Jonathan the Husky made an appearance to see the new buses. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

The transportation department shows off the new buses on Fairfield Way. Jonathan the Husky made an appearance to see the new buses. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Beginning in the fall semester, University of Connecticut students with disabilities, specifically those who use a wheelchair, will be able to ride the shuttle buses around campus.

“Until recently we had no large buses that were wheelchair accessible,” general manager of transportation and fleet services, Dennis Solensky said. “Currently, all individuals with disabilities are encouraged to call in and request the van service.”

Solensky said with the introduction of the 10 new “HuskyGo” buses, each bus now has the capability to hold two wheelchairs securely. Over the summer, drivers will be trained on how to board and secure the wheelchairs. The buses were purchased with the intent of moving toward wheelchair accessibility.

“There’s a considerable amount of higher training involved to train our drivers to ‘kneel’ the bus, lower the ramp and strap in the wheelchair,” Solensky said.

Harrison Waltman, a second-semester computer science major, uses an electric scooter to get around campus, and said it is tedious to use the scooter in the winter months.

“I’d like the freedom to be able to go where I want, like other students,” Waltman said.

When told that he would be able to use the buses beginning in the fall, he said it was the “most wonderful thing he heard all day.”

In the fall, when a student who uses a wheelchair wishes to board a bus, they will wait at a bus stop in the same way that other students currently do. The drivers will see them, park the bus and begin lowering the ramp.

The new wheelchair accessible buses will alleviate some problems that currently occur through the van service.

The Accessible Van Service is a four-van fleet servicing those with permanent or temporary disabilities.

Waltman said the AVS does not afford the same freedoms as the shuttle bus service, because the AVS ends at 10 p.m. on Fridays and 6 p.m. on Saturdays, while the Late Night Shuttle runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. every Friday and Saturday.

“There have been times when I have wanted to go to the Late Night programs or to visit a friend in another dorm on a weekend, but know the AVS service will not be available,” Waltman said.

Other students with disabilities have found the AVS system to be faulty.

Mitchell Dubuc, a fourth-semester biomedical engineering student who uses a manual wheelchair to travel around campus, said he has encountered a few problems while using the AVS.

“I could not get in contact with AVS over a weekend so I missed a lab session because of it. Apparently there are operating hours over the weekend so I am not sure what happened here,” Dubuc said. “It's a little unreliable but it works pretty well if you order a ride early enough. I do not use it that often though so for someone who relies more heavily upon it, it may be different.”

Dominic Gomez, an eighth-semester statistics student, said he also uses the AVS infrequently, and mostly in the winter.

“One time they sent a van without a ramp, even though I told them in advance I was using a motorized scooter,” Gomez said. “I then had to wait for another van to be called.”

Solensky said he is excited to take it forward with these 10 new buses.

“We recognize that having the positions on our wheelchair accessible buses provide independence for those who need them like everyone else,” Solenksy said. “We want to give them the same mobility access that everyone has.”


Claire Galvin is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus.   She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.