Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Attack on paratransit

VTA, on a despite search for more money, has proposed a number of measures that would impact paratransit riders. Paratransit is an ADA mandated program that provides curb to curb service to disabled individuals that are unable to access or use regular transit. Because paratransit cost much more per passenger for VTA to operate, paratransit has become a cost cutting target.

It is not the first time VTA has targeted paratransit. In 2002, a Business Review Team chaired by Carl Guardino has suggested that VTA should make paratransit much more expensive for disabled riders. In 2003, the VTA Board adopted most of the Guardino's recommendations, which included fare hikes on services that were beyond ADA-minimum requirements. VTA also adjusted paratransit qualification process and made it unfriendly for the users. VTA later revised the qualification process after numerous complaints.

This time, VTA plans to eliminate most of the "premium" services:

Open returns - VTA proposes to discontinue a service that allowed riders to make initial reservation without a return trip, in which the rider would make a same day request for the return trip when he or she is ready.

Second vehicle - VTA plans to eliminate the option for riders to request a second vehicle if they change their travel plan. However VTA insists that it would left riders stranded.

Out of service area - The minimum requirement for VTA to provide paratransit service is 3/4 mile from a bus or light rail line. Because of various service reductions implemented years ago, VTA continues to operate paratransit service beyond the 3/4 mile from existing transit by charging $7 per such trip. Riders in the south county do not have to pay the surcharge. If VTA were to eliminate this service, many paratransit riders would effectively lose their transportation with no fault of their own. In its letter to paratransit riders, VTA says that these riders will still be eligible for paratransit, but could only ride it if the riders can come within 3/4 mile of whatever VTA provides. This is insulting because if these riders could independently travel to within 3/4 mile of VTA lines, they perhaps won't need paratransit at all.

Extended service hours - Current paratransit hours are from 5am to 2am, everyday, with 24 hour availability along line 22 (which runs 24 hours) and light rail. VTA is proposing to reduce paratransit availability to 3/4 miles of a transit line ONLY on the days and hours when that line is in operation.

Reservation changes - For now riders can book trips as short as one day in advance and as long as 14 days. VTA plans to shorten the period from 14 days to 7 days, and then from 7 days to 3 days. With shortening of the reservation period, VTA would also introduce an automated phone reservation system. Such changes would create barriers to those who have difficulty in using phones, as well as those relying on others to help them place reservations.

Altogether, the proposed cuts for paratransit are much steeper than what is proposed for bus and light rail. It is unconscionable for VTA to pursue new funding (like HOT funding through AB744) for other things while cutting services needed by the disabled community. Seniors and disabled riders should not have to pay for VTA's incompetence and lack of leadership.

1 comment:

arcady said...

Limiting paratransit accessibility to strictly within 3/4 miles of current bus routes at any given point in time is probably a bad idea. It creates a whole new set of wrong incentives in bus route planning, so some clever accountant will think to eliminate a marginal bus route (or not expand service) because of the added costs of paratransit that that route's existence is responsible for. And vice versa, paratransit users are now going to be lobbying to retain underused bus lines, because they keep the paratransit service in the area.