What many may assume is the smallest hurdle that a resident or commuter must jump to use mass transit is often the most intimidating reason why people don’t use the region’s bus and METROrail systems. That hurdle is the sometimes daunting factor of how to physically use the payment systems, understand the schedules, and navigate between the systems.   This intimidating factor is so great, that some residents/commuters don’t even try transit.

Unfortunately, for our growing elderly populations and some underserved residents, the choice not to use transit is very isolating because they have no other transportation options.

The Fairfax County Department of Trans-portation, in conjunction with the Fairfax Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, has developed an orientation program that uses a technologically innovative Connector bus to provide hands-on experience and information on how to use the region’s mass transit system.  The bus, called MATT (Mobile Accessible Travel Training), has been renovated and designed for training senior citizens to travel safely and independently on regional transit systems.

According to the Fairfax County website, “County staff will coordinate ‘travel training’ trips in which seniors will travel by bus and rail transit to and from a destination of their choice. The travelers-in-training will identify a bus stop near their residence, learn to read bus schedules and route maps, learn how to pay the fare and how to signal the driver to stop, as well as other bus travel skills. The bus will deliver seniors to a Metrorail station where they will learn how to determine the fare and purchase Metrorail fare cards, load SmarTrip cards, read the system map, and board the trains to travel by rail.”

The MATT bus is a traveling classroom that is handicap and hearing impaired accessible and features “a special area in the rear for classroom-like instruction. The classroom area includes audio and video components that can play VCR tapes, DVDs and computer-driven programs that will be shown on three LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) television screens, two of which are mounted on the ceiling of the bus.”

Through the efforts of Supervisor Hudgins and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, the bus was put into service in 2004.  In the future, DATA intends to more closely coordinate some of its outreach activities with the MATT bus and the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.  Stay tuned for more information on these endeavors.