RideWise has provided travel training instruction through its TransitConnect program since 2015. What began as a presentation on the transportation options in and around Somerset County quickly expanded to include more extensive and hands-on training for participants. Today, more than 400 individuals are taught how to travel safely each year.
Travel training is a lifeline for individuals who can’t drive, enabling them to connect to educational opportunities, jobs, shopping, recreation, and more without relying on family and friends. TransitConnect provides the confidence and skills to travel independently and safely on buses, trains, and even ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. Participants are taught by RideWise travel trainer Linda Rapacki, a recipient of the 2022 Somerset County Disability Advocate Award.
RideWise takes this opportunity to recognize the inspiring stories of two participants who demonstrate how essential travel training is for daily living and to thank two of our community partners who advocate for travel training for persons with disabilities.
Andrés Ortiz – Graduate | Andrés Ortiz is a remarkable young man who enthusiastically wanted to travel independently. Andrés, a resident of Bridgewater, gained a newfound sense of freedom after learning how to use Uber to travel to his volunteer position at the Bound Brook Library. Andrés learned about TransitConnect when he attended a job and volunteer fair at the Bridgewater branch of the Somerset County Library. Andrés lived in a neighborhood without public transit access, but that did not deter him. Instead, he learned how to travel using Uber instead of a bus or train.
Linda taught Andrés how to download the Uber app, create an account, find and request a ride, ride with trusted contacts, rate trips, and how to tip. Now, Andrés enjoys his independence by regularly taking Uber to the library, band practice, his girlfriend’s, and Nathan’s Hot Dogs. Andrés was so appreciative that he nominated Linda for the 2022 Somerset County Disability Advocate Award.
Raegan Hoeft – Graduate | Raegan Hoeft’s disarming smile and joyful demeanor hide the challenges she faces every day. Raegan contacted RideWise in the Fall of 2021 after moving to the area from Virginia. Surgery for a brain tumor left Raegan with partial vision loss and cognitive deficits, making her unable to drive a vehicle. But, being brave and fiercely determined, she wanted to learn how to use the local bus network. Raegan is smart and capable but is also vulnerable. She needed additional time to process what she was learning, which required several field sessions to and from New Brunswick, Newark Airport, Edison, and around Somerset County. But soon, Raegan was riding the buses with ease
Raegan has since joined the Somerset County Advisory Council on Disability Issues (ACODI) and the Somerset County Transportation Advisory Board where she offers valuable feedback on using the transit system for persons with disabilities in Somerset County.
Jan Carr-Jones, Bridgewater Raritan High School – Travel Training Advocate | Jan Carr-Jones is a life-skills educator at Bridgewater Raritan High School, teaching students with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. No one understands better than Jan the importance of learning to travel independently, and her devotion to this vital life skill is evident to all who work with her. Jan has had her students participate in classroom presentations and bus field trips with Linda for nearly 10 years, being the first teacher to have RideWise present travel training to her students. Each year, Jan and Linda hold an annual planning meeting to map out travel training strategies for the upcoming school year. Jan always goes above and beyond to ensure the best possible education for her classes. Her amazing connection with students helps her identify what motivates them to learn. “Students with learning and other disabilities connect best when practicing their travel skills in the community,” says Jan. “These real-world experiences make a stronger association with how to take public transportation.”
RVCC Achievement Center – Travel Training Advocate | The Achievement Center at Raritan Valley Community College is a certificate-based, post-secondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities looking to further their education and skills for employment. Students are often referred to RideWise for travel training by the Center’s curriculum coordinator, Bob Hulit.
According to Bob, this partnership with RideWise teaches his students invaluable independent travel training skills, enabling them to pursue their dream of attending Raritan Valley Community College and engaging in campus activities. Dozens of students have received one-on-one travel training specific to their travel needs.
Transportation workshops are conducted in person by Linda at the Achievement Center twice a year. The workshops were so vital, they were delivered virtually during the height of the pandemic for students and parents. The virtual model engaged more parents and it’s common for families to contact RideWise for additional travel training assistance weeks and months after the presentation.
As Bob explains, travel training is much more than learning to ride the bus. It enhances the students quality of life, teaches individual responsibility and allows them to achieve goals and dreams.