An outage at NFTA took their phone system down several times over a 24 hour period this weekend - and now, customers who utilize Paratransit Access Line (PAL), believe the outage exposed a huge problem that NFTA needs to address.
Paratransit is available to individuals who, because of a temporary or permanent disability, are unable to use the fixed route service.
A number of customers contacted 2 On Your Side to say it's unacceptable that the Paratransit scheduling phone line crashed Friday and doesn't have a backup.
"I am thankful for Paratransit because if it wasn't there, I'd be stuck homebound," says Andrew Pieczynski of Hamburg. "But there are little things that need to be improved for safety and convenience of the disabled community out there."
Pieczynski is blind and tells Channel 2 he uses Paratransit at least 4 times a week, "It's my main source of transportation."
Because of his disability, he finds using the Paratransit phone number is the easiest way to schedule pick ups and drop offs or to check on the status of that transportation.
But when the NFTA phone system stopped working Friday, he admits he was glad he was at home at the time and not out somewhere waiting for a pick up, "You would have no way of communicating with anybody at the NFTA."
"This turned into a safety emergency for any rider. Yesterday, when the weather got real bad, there might have been buses out there running late. After 4 o'clock, you hit number two (in the automated phone reservation system) and you would talk to a live person. 'Where's my bus?' 'Oh, it's running late cause of traffic.' It gives you that security, so you're not just out waiting in the weather."
Channel 2 brought these concerns to the NFTA, who in turn released this statement:
First and foremost, we apologize to our customers who were unable to reach us via our phone system, which is now up running. We experienced an outage, which caused difficultly within our communication systems on and off for approximately 24 hours. We deeply value our Paratransit customers and offer our sincere apologies for the issue with our communication system.
Pieczynski's reaction, "If they care for us so much, why wasn't there a backup system before this happened?"
2 On Your Side relayed this question to NFTA spokesperson Helen Tederous. In an e-mail, she responded, "We are already working on a long term plan to increase the reliability of our systems. It takes a considerable amount of time and resources to build redundancy into any critical system and we are working hard to create that type of dependability for our customers."
Tederous tells Channel 2 no Paratransit customers were stranded Friday or Saturday because of the communication issues. She claims the outage resulted in minimal interruption to Paratransit service. "We are aware of two customers who were unable to reach us and had to make alternative transportation plans on Friday."
We're told those customers had been trying to schedule pickup and return trips.
2 On Your Side called the Paratransit reservation line Saturday afternoon to make sure it was indeed working. The person who answered was taking reservations, but would only schedule pickups and drop offs within the next 24 hours, claiming the computer system was still down.
We asked Tederous about this, as well. She says that issue has since been corrected.