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City provides transit service to disabled

Carla Steinbuchel is lifting onto the MARS bus. Steinbuchel said the city transit system for disables citizens has been a tremendous help to her and other people with disabilities.

The Parks and Recreation Department’s Madison Assisted Ride System (MARS) has helped thousands of people with disabilities since its established almost three years ago.

“There is a great need for help for people who are disabled and can’t drive,” said Elise Kirkland, program coordinator. “We’re here for those people who need help getting to and from places.”

The transit system is open to people who live within the Madison city limits and meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement of having a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” Once approved, a MARS bus will pick them up from their homes and transport them around Madison and to parts of Huntsville.

The bus runs in Huntsville to Golf Road, as far north as Sparkman Drive, and no farther east than Airport Road in Madison, at a cost of $2 each way.

Kirkland stressed that there is no age limit on who can use the transits. She said it’s for all people who don’t have the ability or money to transport themselves.

MARS operates with two 15-passenger handicapped capable buses. One bus runs part time—Monday through Wednesday from 7-5 and the other, Monday through Friday, 7-5.

“Whether it’s for young or old, it has given them a way to work and not depend on others all the time,” she said. “It’s trying to help them be more independent. No one wants to be stuck at home all the time.”

Carla Steinbuchel was the first handicapped person to use MARS. A driver struck her car while on his cell phone, breaking her neck and leaving Steinbuchel completely paralyzed. She moved to Madison from Huntsville because she said it was the only place she could find an apartment to match her needs.

Steinbuchel said before the MARS came along, she spent a year riding down Hwy 20 in her electric wheelchair to doctor appointments.

“The MARS system has made all the difference in the world to me,” Steinbuchel said. “It allowed me to safely get to appointments without having to worry about it raining, or bad weather.”

She said the MARS came as a big relief to both her and her family.

“When you have a disability, you are basically trapped in your environment,” she said. “There is no way to go where you need to go. With the MARS system, I was able to do what I needed to do.”

Today, Steinbuchel still has trouble walking and can’t use her left hand, but she was able to purchase a handicap accessible vehicle and no longer uses MARS. However, she did say that the system is necessary and is a big help to those in situations like hers.

“It’s almost like having other family members here,” she said. “The people who run MARS deserve kudos, everyone from the driver, Laverne, to Elise.”

Kirkland said one major factor to the program is that participants must live within city limits. She had to turn down many applicants because their mailing address was listed outside Madison’s limits. She said, when that happens, she usually recommends other services to aid those people.

“This is a good service to offer people that have transportation issues, especially those who need a lift and to the doctor and jobs,” said Korey Alfred, the department’s director. “It’s very difficult for those people who require help to get around.”

The number of rides from Oct. 9, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010 totaled 3,4060. Alfred said there has always been a need in Madison, and now the word is getting out about the system and people are taking advantage of it.

The program was started back in 2008 when citizens approached former mayor Arthur Sandy Kirkindall. Kirkland, a Madison native, said citizens had been pushing the issue for a long time and they finally got through to the administration.

“It’s a broader horizon than I imagined,” Kirkland said. “People with disabilities want to live a healthy lifestyle. They probably wouldn’t do well being stuck at home, so they’re getting out and meeting people.

For more information on MARS, call the Parks and Recreation department at 256-772-9300.

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