Group attempts to help those looking for a ride

Old Lyme - A new coalition is aiming to address gaps in the region's public transit system and raise awareness of available resources.

LEARN, a regional educational agency for southeastern Connecticut, is meeting with transportation companies, government agencies and organizations to try to find solutions to make transportation easily accessible.

Easter Seals, a nonprofit organization that provides services for those with disabilities, awarded the grant to help improve transportation for students with special needs, but the initiative will further help people with disabilities and the population at large, said Lois Eldridge, LEARN's transition coordinator for special education.

Eldridge said transit is a key issue for students after high school graduation. Graduates beginning college or a career may need to use public transportation, but may live in districts lacking easily accessible transit or awareness of transit options, according to Eldridge.

Members participating in the initial conference in November included representatives from local schools, the Estuary Transit District, Southeast Area Transit, the state Department of Transportation, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, and The Kennedy Center, which provides transportation training for people with disabilities.

The committee outlined steps in a plan, including having forums for parents to learn about transportation or training districts to provide travel education for students.

Promoting awareness of transit options is a goal of the coalition. Joe Comerford, executive director of Estuary Transit, said some people, for example, don't realize they can call to arrange for a bus to pick them up in certain areas.

The coalition suggests towns and schools electronically link to transportation information, such as guides from the Eastern Connecticut Transportation Consortium Inc. Electronic surveys could further help identify the region's transit needs, said Shirley Zaccheo, the mobility information specialist there.

A long-term goal is to make regional public transportation information easily accessible through Google transit, said Eldridge.

She said the coalition has been eager to find solutions.

"Everybody was just so on board," said Eldridge. "It just shows the need."

k.drelich@theday.com

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