Billy MacConel was born with cerebral palsy.
But more importantly, he was born a Gator.
“I got it running through my veins,” the 24-year-old said.
MacConel, a fifth-year UF telecommunication student, loves the Gator Nation. And soon, he and other wheelchair users will be able to travel through it more easily.
Regional Transit System is upgrading bus stops to include concrete pads that will provide level waiting platforms for riders with mobility disabilities, RTS spokesman Chip Skinner wrote in an email.
The concrete pads will allow them to wait without being on a slope or soft ground and will make it easier for the buses’ wheelchair lifts.
Construction of the landing pads varies depending on the landscape, Skinner said, but it is typically about $5,500 each for design and placement.
“Unfortunately, a design and permits are needed and we cannot just purchase a bag of cement and pour the pads ourselves,” he said. “The cost can really escalate if the stop is on a slope or other amenities are placed.”
Funding comes from sources like the city of Gainesville, Alachua County, the Florida Department of Transportation and the federal government, Skinner said.
RTS is also in the process of placing Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant benches, which have backs and are slanted at a specific angle, at its busiest stops and where riders with disabilities visit the most, he said.
More shelters and trash cans are also part of the upgrades, Skinner said.
Michelle Sterling, a UF Health representative, said clients in wheelchairs complain mostly about being late to appointments because of buses.
“It’s hard because we have to kind of fuss and fight with the doctors,” she said. “Sometimes what they’ll do is just try to work them into a later appointment, but really, that’s not fair to the patient.”
In his email, Skinner said bus operators sometimes complain about the time involved in maintaining the travel schedule while strapping in wheelchairs.
“This is a continuing process,” he said, “and a number of them are done each year as funding becomes available.”
People who have Americans with Disabilities Act certification cards may ride RTS fixed-route buses for free, according to the RTS website. Most can also bring a helper for free, too.
[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 4/21/2014 under the headline "RTS upgrades stops with wheelchair-friendly accommodations"]