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"I really depend[ed] on CATConnect:" Collier's visually-impaired want bus access

The complaints come even as Collier County Commissioners approved a $1 million federal grant to add six new buses to the fleet.
Posted at 6:47 PM, Jun 12, 2024

NAPLES, Fla — Getting around Collier County is easy if you can drive, but it's a daily struggle for people who have lost their vision.

On Tuesday, visually impaired residents spoke to commissioners about the need for better paratransit services.

Patricia Headly, who lost her vision two and a half years ago, relies on CATConnect, the county's door-to-door bus service for people with disabilities.

"I had to sit on the bus one afternoon for four hours, and I was only 11 miles from my home," Headly said. "I got a tour of Naples; it's just too bad I couldn't see it," she joked.

Patricia Headly visually impaired collier county bus access
Patricia Headly said she once spent 4 hours on a bus that was just a few miles from her home. She was one of the visually impaired residents who asked Collier County commissioners to continue expanding paratransit bus services.

Headly became blind around the same time she lost her husband and her eldest son and explained how it has impacted her daily life. "I really needed to depend on CATConnect to get around," she said.

On Tuesday, Headly joined over 15 others from Lighthouse of Collier, a nonprofit supporting the blind and visually impaired, to address the commissioners about CATConnect's issues and propose solutions.

During the meeting, the county approved a $1 million federal funding plan to add six new buses to the paratransit service.

Collier Area Transit CAT busses bus station
The Collier Area Transit service, or CAT.

While viewing it as a positive step, Lighthouse of Collier CEO Scott Flagel stressed more is needed. "We wanted to make sure they knew how important this program is to people with disabilities," Flagel said. "We didn't want them to think that funding stopped there. We wanted them to continue looking for ways to fund and increase paratransit services," he added.

Commissioners heard proposals to add more targeted routes, increase the fleet, and improve management.

Headly and other disabled attendees stressed that these improvements are financially feasible. "The people that work there are wonderful. I have no complaints about that. But the management and the number of buses available are inadequate," Headly said. She added, "and the dispatching needs better software, maybe even AI."

Commissioners expressed their willingness to help improve the transportation situation. "We've listened. We've heard every single one of you. We have empathy for you," said commission chairman Chris Hall.