For Washington State University graduate student Brandon Viall, the Cougar Accessible Transportation Service (CATS) does more than get him to class on time. It allows him to lead a more typical life.
The sports marketing and management student has cerebral palsy and relies on CATS to pick him up outside of his residence hall and take him to a variety of places on the Pullman campus including academic buildings, the Compton Union Building, and even Ferdinand’s when he gets a craving for ice cream.
During the summer, the responsibility for managing CATS transferred from the Access Center to WSU Transportation Services. The two areas remain close partners. CATS has existed for several decades and provides door-to-door service for students with mobility challenges, whether temporary or permanent. The student-funded service runs 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Although students receive first-priority, faculty and staff can get rides when space is available.
Transportation Options Supervisor Gabby Rodriguez said Transportation Services was eager to bring CATS into its portfolio because it provides an important service to the WSU community.
“The students this program serves have a lot to juggle,” Rodriguez said. “Not only do they have to deal with normal everyday stresses, they also have to think about things such as how am I going to get up that hill? How is the weather going to affect me today? Is it going to be difficult for me to get to my classes or job today?”
Van Coordinator Eric Stockton easily provides 20 rides a day and that number can double on the busiest days. His fleet consists of two wheelchair accessible vans and a sedan. He typically hires a couple of student drivers to help accommodate the requests, which can be made on the Transportation Services website.
Meredyth Goodwin, director of the Access Center, said moving CATS to Transportation Services was discussed for a couple of years. While the program relates to the Access Center because it is about access, not all the riders who request the service need accommodations provided by the Access Center. She said now there is more opportunity for the program to expand and benefit from updated technology. It belongs in the hands of WSU’s transportation experts.
“We are all responsible for access no matter what role we play on campus and it needs to be at the forefront of everything we do,” Goodwin said. “This change is one way the university is embracing that concept.”
Rodriguez and Stockton have already begun looking for a suitable replacement for one of the wheelchair accessible vans that is experiencing frequent breakdowns. They are also making plans to upgrade the scheduling system that will allow students to receive rides quicker after formally requesting one. Additionally, they want to make it easier for students to input the documentation Transportation Services needs to fulfill the requests.
Rodriguez said many of their riders would like to see evening and weekend service. It is something Transportation Services would like to offer eventually. In the meantime, he said his department has a solid partnership with Pullman Transit, which offers evening and weekend service through its Dial-a-Ride program. It is free for those with a CougarCard.
Viall said even though the Dial-a-Ride service is much appreciated and reliable, it would be helpful for students like him to have another option on campus to take them to evening events or weekend games.
“I think the university has an opportunity to send a message, not only to students with disabilities, but all students, that they matter,” he said. “It shouldn’t be all about how many students are served. It is being able to say the money used is money well spent.”
Rodriguez and Stockton see every day the positive impact CATS is having on helping students achieve their academic goals. And if they sense a rider can benefit from other kinds of assistance besides transportation, they are eager to help connect students with the Access Center.
“New students in particular may not know how to network yet and are still finding their own voice,” Rodriguez said. “This kind of partnership is what makes WSU special and an advantage of living in a tight-knit community like ours.”