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NJTransit and Rutgers Launch Program to Help People with Disabilities

NJTIP@Rutgers Program Shows People How to Navigate Transit System
NJTransit Train
Richard Rabinowitz

NEWARK, NJ—People with certain disabilities who don't know how to get around on New Jersey Transit (NJT) and other transportation systems, can learn how, thanks to a new collaboration between NJT and Rutgers University.

The two organizations have teamed up to create a new program, NJTIP@Rutgers, which gives people guides to teach them, either one-on-one or in small groups.

"The mission of NJTIP", says a statement on the website, "is to increase the independence and self-sufficiency of people with disabilities, older adults and others by empowering them to use public transit system safely and independently."  

NJTIP was created as a pilot program in 2005, and it graduated 49 students.

In October 2007, with a contract with NJ Transit, NJTIP was started up again, in Livingston Township.

This time, NJTIP was an organization, with several programs to help people with disabilities, catering to people from Morris, Somerset, Essex, and Union counties.

NJ Transit expanded NJTIP's contract in November 2008, with Passaic, Bergen, and Hudson counties now receiving service.

Last year, the organization became part of the Voorhees Transportation Center, a Rutgers transportation think tank connected with  the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

One-on-one instruction is available for people who have signed up for Access Link and live in Somerset, Passaic, Essex, Bergen, Morris, and Union counties, all in northeastern New Jersey.

In one-on-one training, the instructor and the customer ride the bus or train together until the person gains an adequate level of comfort and independence. 

Although the program does not include Middlesex County, there have been talks of expanding it to Middlesex, as well as Mercer and Burlington counties.

According to Karen Alexander, the Director NJTIP, expansion into Central Jersey is contingent on the receiving of the "New Freedom" grant later in 2014. 

NJTIP has also provided a MCTIP program for Middlesex County, with a focus on students with disabilities, senior citizens, high school teachers, and senior center workers.

This program was funded by the Middlesex County Department of Transportation, rather than by NJ Transit. 

NJTIP anticipates performing more travel training in Middlesex County in the future, and it hopes to get a federal "New Freedom" grant, later this year, that would cover Middlesex County.

In addition to individual training, NJTIP currently offers training for groups and high school students in transition programs.

Professionals and interested volunteers can attend seminars so as to familiarize themselves with the transit system and be of better help to those in need. 

Group travel instruction is designed to target those who do not require the intensity of one-on-one training, and includes senior citizens and those with certain types of disabilities. 

In-school travel instruction is designed to implemented as part of a classroom curriculum, and features weekly classes and monthly field trips to gain first-hand experience. 

So far, NJTIP's one-on-one program has trained 271 people, while its group instruction programs and seminars, have educated more than 1,200 folks.

Navigating public transit, while second nature for most people, can require a multitude of different skills including time management and interacting with others.

For example, a rider would have to be able to recognize landmarks, read schedules and maps, understand signs, pay fare, plan out trips and take safety precautions.

NJTIP gets most of its funding from NJ Transit and the federal government.

A federal grant exists to provide capital and aid to individuals with disabilities, and came about as a result of Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which passed the United States Congress in 2007.  

One-on-one travel instruction is paid for via a contract with the NJ Transit Accessible Services program.

Federal "New Freedom" grants help provide other services, including the ability to help people in Passaic, Union, and Hudson counties.

The federal grants are distributed through NJ Transit's Office of Local Programs. Those two sources provide some 80% of NJTIP's budget.

The remaining funds come from foundation contracts and grants.