WALLINGFORD — Local organizations are partnering with the town to encourage Spanish-speaking residents to use public transportation.
On Thursday afternoon, about 20 mothers and their children received a free ride on the local bus route. They were picked up at the Spanish Community of Wallingford headquarters, 284 Washington St. SCOW, along with the Senior Center located next door, were only recently added to the bus route, which is operated by North East Transportation on behalf of Connecticut Transit. The stop was added last January as the town and bus company made route changes in an attempt to increase ridership.
“With winter coming, it’s very important we learn how to use public transportation,” said Maria Ruiz, a mother of four children.
Transportation is always an issue for families who utilize the services at SCOW, said Liz Schacht, a parent liaison for the organization. Many families walk to SCOW from nearby homes to take part in activities. But with winter coming, it’s safer to use other forms of transportation, she said.
“We’re trying to get people used to public transportation,” Schacht said.
Learning about public transportation access not only helps Spanish-speaking families get to SCOW, said Roberta Clouet, a project coordinator with Wallingford Early Childhood Alliance Resources and Education. “It gives them an idea where to go shopping.”
WECARE, which specializes in providing educational resources for early childhood development, offers the Bebes Activos program. Bebes Activos is a bilingual playgroup that meets every Thursday afternoon at SCOW, the WECARE Family Resource Center or the Ulbrich Boys and Girls Club. Mothers and children from the program took part in the bus ride on Thursday. Clouet said many Spanish-speaking families in town are new and don’t know where to shop. The bus route travels down part of Route 5 and stops at businesses such as Wal-Mart and ShopRite.
The impetus for the demo ride, said Town Engineer John Thompson, was when he was recently approached by SCOW Executive Director Maria Harlow. Thompson said Harlow saw an opportunity to increase ridership in the town’s Spanish-speaking segment. Thompson was happy to set up the demo.
“I do want to see this because I think somehow we have to do everything we can to increase ridership,” Thompson said. “It’s not at the level we’re hoping for.”
On Thursday, Thompson rode the bus with Clouet, Schacht, Ruiz and a large group of about 50. Mothers waited for the bus on Washington Street for about 15 minutes with their children in jackets or wrapped in blankets. As the bus approached, there was noticeable excitement. Besides Thompson, it was the first time for all in the group utilizing public transportation in Wallingford. Many entered the bus with a smile. The bus driver explained how to pay the bus fee. The group traveled on the bus for the entire route, which takes about one hour.
“It’s a great experience for mothers and myself,” said Ruiz, who has served as a parent leader for Bebes Activos for the past six years. By learning more about the bus route, Spanish-speaking families can feel more at ease when using the bus. There is anxiety, she said, because many don’t speak English at all, so if they get lost or have questions, they cannot communicate with the bus driver or other bus riders. But if Spanish-speaking families ride the bus in numbers, they won’t feel as alienated, she said.
“They have to feel comfortable,” Ruiz said.
Thompson said he was impressed by how many decided to take part in the demo ride. There is no bus shelter at SCOW. But if a large number of people there continue to use public transportation, Thompson said he can arrange for the bus company to slightly alter its route so that the bus loops into the parking lot and picks people up closer to the building.