This travel training program teaches you how to use public transportation

Pecola Trice has worked at Citilink for over 30 years. Starting in customer service in 1989, Trice knows the ins and outs of every Citilink route and schedule. As I make my way through the Central Station in Downtown Fort Wayne trailing her, it’s clear Trice is also very familiar with the drivers who take on those routes each day and the employees who help riders at the Central Station.

"I’m passionate about my community,” Trice says. “I’m passionate about making things easier for people. I found part of my purpose and passion together, so that’s why I’ve been here as long as I have.”

As Citilink’s outreach coordinator and travel trainer, it’s her job to share her knowledge with people who want to use public transit to traverse Fort Wayne, and with over 30 decades of experience, she’s got a lot of knowledge to share. It’s one of the many reasons she was promoted to lead the Citilink Travel Training Program when it started in May of 2022. 

Buses depart from the station at Citilink Central Station in downtown Fort Wayne.“Our general manager, John Metzinger, came from another city and he was surprised we didn’t have a travel trainer, so since I’ve been here and I know the schedules and the routes, they asked me,” she explains.

The training program’s goal is to help people understand the services offered by Citilink and how to use those services. The educational program is free is available to anyone who is willing to learn. 

As someone who grew up in a town small enough to only have one working traffic light, it’s safe to say my experience with public transit is nonexistent. Ever since moving to Fort Wayne, I’ve been fortunate enough to have my own transportation, leaving me rather out of the loop when it comes to Citilink’s services. 

I have written about our public transit system in the past and I am no stranger to the criticism frequently shared about what it was like to depend on public transit in Fort Wayne. It might seem unfair to echo those criticisms without experiencing Citilink for myself and I am curious– what is it like to public transportation in Fort Wayne?

So after learning about the Travel Training Program, I decided to pay a visit to Trice– ready to learn.

Per the program outline, the first meeting is designed to set goals and provide instructional planning. Goals often reflect a desire to get from point A to point B, for example, participants often want to learn how to get from their home to a popular Fort Wayne location, like Glenbrook Mall or Parkview North.

“We cover a lot of ground,” Trice explains in our meeting. “We go as far North as Parkview North and we circle the entire complex. We go as far South as Walmart South. We go as far East as New Haven– Lincoln Highway and Green Road. We don’t service all of New Haven but we do cover a lot of ground. Then, West, we go beyond Lutheran Hospital, Rural King, Coventry Plaza area.”

A map showing Citilink's routes.Trice is prepared to teach everything one might need to know about using Citilink services. She can explain how to read a map or bus schedule, how to pay for bus fares, how to track Citilink buses in real-time, and what to do if you think you’ve boarded the wrong bus. (Her tip: Stay on the bus. It will eventually loop back to the stop you got on at.) 

In my first meeting with Trice, she gave an overview of each route Citilink offers and explained that on each route. She also provides trainees with pamphlets that highlight the notable places where each route stops or passes. She says pointing out the landmarks on each route can help people who aren’t good with street names.

“This is second nature to me,” she says. “If you’re a visual person, this might give you a general idea of the ground we cover and the businesses we go by.”

Token Transit allows riders to buy bus fare on their mobile device.The pamphlets break down each route individually, making them easier to understand, as opposed to looking at the entire system’s map, which includes every route. They also provide a bus schedule, something else Trice teaches trainees how to read.

Trice also explains bus fares, which are $1.25 per ride for adults or $3 for an all-day adult pass. Citilink provides special fare rates to children ages 5-18 (children under 5 ride for free), persons with disabilities, senior citizens and Medicare card holders. Passes can be purchased in exact change on the bus or at any local Kroger. 

If physical maps aren’t your thing, don’t sweat, Citilink recently updated their website and has invested in technology that makes planning trips and tracking the bus much easier.

Online, Citilink provides virtual versions of those pamphlets, with all the information available in both English and Spanish. They also break down which routes will get you to public libraries, city parks, college campuses, schools, and food pantries. Through the app DoubleMap, all of Citilink’s buses can be tracked in real-time. Riders can also pay their fares virtually, through the Token Transit app.

DoubleMap allows riders to track Citilink buses in real time.If all this information is available online, what’s the benefit of sitting down with a travel trainer? 

As Trice says, sometimes it’s easier to learn from another person as opposed to learning from an automated system or reading from a computer.

“When you have business to take care of, and you get a recording on the phone, how do you feel?” Trice asks. “When you have a person answer you, and say, ‘This is Suzy, how may I help you?’ It’s more personal. It makes that person feel valued, that you took enough time out of your schedule to physically show that person how to navigate the bus. Even if I go online, I still might have questions.”

Each person’s experience with the Travel Training Program is different. Trice gives every trainee a personalized experience, based on their needs. 

“You can’t compare Suzy with Ben,” she says. “It has to be an individualized thing.” 

Not only are the educational aspects personalized, but one of the most notable perks of using the Travel Training Program is the ride-along. 

After the first meeting, where a travel goal is set, Trice schedules a time to accompany people on their Citilink trips, taking the pressure off of trying something new alone.

“It’s not just one time,” Trice says, recalling a recent experience with a trainee. “I had this guy who I was doing this with last week and after he said, ‘But I don’t get it!’ I told him it wasn’t over, we could do this again. So he called me up and we’re gonna do it again. He was just overwhelmed because he had to catch three buses. It’s not just a one-stop shop, if you need to do it again, we can.”

On the ride-along, Trice is able to guide people through some of the finer details of using public transportation. It also gives people a chance to experience Citilink without the anxiety of trying something new– Trice is there to ensure you’re going to the right place. It also offers the opportunity to have immediate answers to questions that might arise.

It also gives her a chance to point out security measures to those who feel unsafe on public transit.

On a Citilink bus“I get they’re apprehensive and they have fear,” she says. “I point out that if you look around, we have cameras in the front, the back and the side. If you have any problems, there’s a bus number and you can always call.”

A harsh reality of relying on public transportation is navigating roadways and sidewalks, or lack-there-of in Fort Wayne to get to bus stops. While the City is investing in sidewalks and neighborhood infrastructure, there are still leaps and bounds to be made. But Trice’s assistance extends off the bus too. She helps people figure out how to safely navigate to their nearest bus stop. (Trice notes that Citilink is currently working on upgrading bus stop signage, so some may not be aware of their closest stop.)

A rider places her bike on the bus' bike rack at the Central Station.Trice shares that one of her most rewarding experiences as a travel trainer was working with a woman who was legally blind and needed to cross a busy road to get to her bus stop.

“We went out a couple of times, trying to navigate her across the street,” she says. “All I could tell her was, ‘Make sure you have your cane in front of you and make sure you listen.’ We had been out maybe four different times and then she said she was going to do it by herself. She was determined, so I couldn’t stop her.”

Trice says one day the woman called around 9:30 in the morning and said she was thinking about trying out the route by herself. 

“I told her to take her phone with her and said, ‘If you have any problems, I will come swoop you up,” she recalls.

Trice says she waited the whole day and by 4 p.m. when she hadn’t heard anything, she thought maybe the woman had decided not to go. But then, a call came and the woman exclaimed to Trice that she had done it– she had crossed the busy street on her own, made it to Glenbrook Square Mall, got her haircut, got herself lunch, walked around, and then safely returned home.

“That part– that’s why I do what I do,” Trice says tearing up. “It’s not about me, it’s the success of people being able to live their life the way they want to.”

When explaining the bus routes to me at our first meeting, Trice makes mention of one of the most notable critiques of Citilink’s bus system, one I’ve heard frequently– it’s not always convenient to take the bus.

The bus routes and Fort Wayne are set up on a “hub and spoke” model, which means the buses all converge from a central station, known as the “hub,” and then travel outward on lines in various directions, known as the “spokes.” This can make trips that would be a short drive via personal transportation, a much longer trip.

A rider makes their way to their bus at Central Station, Downtown Fort Wayne.“Say you live at Canterbury Apartments, but you want to get to Glenbrook, even though you're out North–- and I know it may not make any sense– you’ll have to go Downtown and transfer at the central station, then pick up the number eight to go to Glenbrook, even though you were already out there,” explains Trice. “That’s just the way the system was set up.”

It’s true– it’s the way the system was set up and the reality is that changing those routes is difficult and expensive. It’s a system not likely to change anytime soon for an array of reasons.

In the meantime, Citilink is doing what it can to make choosing public transit easier and more accessible. As evidenced by Trice’s success story, one of the advertised benefits of travel training is independent travel.

Citilink also offers a number of other programs to encourage the use of their services, including free fares for everyone on Saturdays in December, and free fares for everyone on Election Day, November 7, in conjunction with AARP. 

They also have Flexlink routes, which are buses that can deviate three-quarters of a mile from their routes for pick up and drop off, giving people more access to the North and South regions of Fort Wayne with a call to the Citilink offices. Additionally, they offer Citilink Access, a pre-scheduled transportation service for riders who meet ADA eligibility requirements and are unable to use our fixed route services.

Regardless of your transportation needs, Trice is prepared to help each individual learn what Citilink can do for them.

“What I do is not cookie cutter,” she says. “Everyone has different needs and different desires, so it’s designed with you in mind.”

This story was made possible by AARP Indiana.

Citilink buses are a primary provider of Fort Wayne's current public transit.
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.