Our last newsletter featured a TransitConnect field trip taken by Bridgewater-Raritan High School students. However, TransitConnect doesn’t only teach participants how to use public transit. Recently, Andrés Ortiz, a resident of Bridgewater, gained a newfound sense of freedom after learning how to use Uber to travel to and from his volunteer position at the Bound Brook Library.
Twenty-nine-year-old Andrés, who has autism and autoimmune encephalopathy, does not drive and lives in a neighborhood without public transit access, making it nearly impossible for him to travel on his own. When Andrés and his family met Linda Rapacki, Director of Mobility Management for RideWise, at a job fair at the Bridgewater branch of the Somerset County Library, Andrés realized that he could take Uber in place of a bus or train. “When we first met Linda at the job fair at the library in Bridgewater, she spoke directly with Andrés, not me,” Andrés’ mom, Shawn, explained. “All too often, people assume a person on the spectrum is unable to communicate on his/her own, but not Linda. Andrés was always her primary client, and he sincerely appreciated being treated with such respect, as did my husband and I.”
Soon, Andrés was learning how to use Uber. Linda rode with Andres and taught him how to download the Uber app, create an account, find a ride with the vehicle best suited to his needs, request a ride, verify the ride is the right vehicle, safety tips, how to ride with trusted contacts, how to rate trips, and how to tip. “Linda had a sense of humor and relatability that allowed Andrés to feel at ease and ask all the questions he needed to before moving on to the next topic,” said Shawn.
Now, Andrés is enjoying his independence by regularly taking Uber by himself to the library, band practice, his girlfriend’s, and Nathan’s Hot Dogs. “Riding in an Uber is a truly unique experience for me. I’ve been wanting to try this for many years since I’m not able to drive because I have autism, and because [of the training] I can be more independent,” Andrés said. “Because Linda is such a great teacher, I was not the least bit nervous. We had fun together preparing for this experience. Linda made the whole training easy to understand! We even prepared for something going wrong, so I was able to be calm when my driver didn’t show up and I knew what to do.”
The TransitConnect travel training program is available to anyone interested in learning how to travel around Somerset County, whether by bus, train, or ride-hailing service. To schedule a training for yourself or someone you know, visit our TransitConnect page.