As employees with the Transportation Department at the San Diego Zoo, there are many facets to our job. Of course, we give tours of our amazing facility on the double-decked buses (pictured below). Those in our department also drive the Express Buses, including the Polar Bear Express, which is a convenient transportation system for anyone with a bus ticket. A few of us are also trained to drive shuttles which assist guests with mobility issues and accommodate wheelchairs, ECV’s (Electric Convenience Vehicles), and other mobility devices. With a ramp that opens and elevates, we can accommodate people of varying abilities who want to enjoy our Zoo.
The Zoo actually has a fleet of three ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-approved shuttles, and some days we need all three! I remember one busy week when there was an ODEP (Office of Disability Employment Policy) convention going on in San Diego. All three shuttles were busy transporting people from Polar Bear Plunge to the Front Plaza, Elephant Mesa to Panda Canyon, Camel Road to Ituri Forest.
Some of us who drive “The Shuttle” are also proficient in American Sign Language to better serve our hard-of-hearing and deaf guests. Being fluent in other languages also helps tremendously. It can be daunting for a non-English-speaking visitor to get around our Zoo, and to be a person with a disability adds another perspective as well. Our shuttle drivers, and their concern for the safety and comfort of the guests, help put them at ease.
Some guests, especially locals, know that they can summon The Shuttle upon entering the Zoo at our Security Office. It usually takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes for the familiar tan van to show up after an initial call.
A shuttle driver must also be a master of multitasking. We monitor several radio channels simultaneously and can still hold an interesting conversation with the guests aboard the shuttle at the same time!
Anyone who has ever spent a day with us can tell you all about the canyons, mesas, and hills that comprise our world-famous Zoo. Sometimes guests are simply “pooped-out,” and just can’t manage to put one foot in front of the other. Again, this is where The Shuttle comes in handy. Simply have a gift shop employee phone for us, or flag down an employee with a radio, and soon you will be lifted away in a comfortable, air-conditioned mini-van—your own temporary limo service—to take you to wherever you want to go within our great Zoo.
On a typical day, The Shuttle makes about 30 to 40 pick-ups, assisting about 150 of our guests. That translates to almost 7,800 guests each year that might not otherwise enjoy an unforgettable day at the Zoo, thanks to the help of our shuttle and its trusty drivers.
And don’t forget: the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park also has an ADA-approved shuttle service!
Drew Searing is a tour guide at the San Diego Zoo. Read Drew’s previous blog, Visiting the Birds.