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Paul Koch, Silver Key's Resource Development Director, gets off the No. 9 bus Friday morning at the Mountain Metropolitan Transit's downtown terminal. Koch accepted the challenge to ride pubic transit in a wheelchair as part of the "Roll A Mile in My Shoes" campaign, which aimed to shed a light on mobility issues for people with disabilities. Photo by CAROL LAWRENCE, The Gazette

Barb Baker has multiple sclerosis and has been wheelchair-bound for 25 years, so she knows what it’s like to be unable to ride the city’s transit system on Sundays or in the evenings. The bus service near her house does not run during those times.

The upshot: Her ability to get around is limited, and so is her independence.

“I can’t go to fun events at night or shop on Sundays,” she said. “The city needs to wake up and expand service instead of cutting it.”

Baker was one of several people who spoke out Friday against proposed budget cuts to the transit system. If, in three days, voters do not approve a ballot referendum to increase property taxes to prevent a nearly $27 million shortfall in the 2010 budget, the city likely will slash bus service in half and eliminate evening, weekend, holiday and paratransit services. The latter provides curb-to-curb transportation for disabled residents like Baker.

To raise awareness of the plight of Baker and other disabled residents, Silver Key Senior Services lined up three of its employees, as well as City Councilman Tom Gallagher to participate in a challenge to see what it’s like to use a wheelchair to get around for a day.

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“It’s been a moving experience,” said Paul Koch of Silver Key, who did the “Roll a Mile in My Shoes” challenge on Friday. “I realized I couldn’t go where I wanted to in a timely fashion. My normal 25-minute commute to work took two hours. I think we can do better, as a community.”

Jim Hanson, who’s been riding city buses since 1981, said that under the proposed service reduction, the system would revert to where it was two decades ago.

“I hear, ‘Well, there’s only nine people on that bus; we don’t need the system.’ Those nine people have places to go: work, get their kids, get something to eat. We’re the people, and we need the service.”

City Councilwoman Jan Martin, who initiated the property tax referendum, said it’s imperative to retain such public transportation for the city’s disabled residents.

“As a community leader, I do not want to lead the community down that road,” Martin said at Silver Key’s press conference.