Today's read: Cut service for disabled?
MetroAccess cuts considered: When the economy sours, those who are needy and vulnerable suffer most. That sad truth is on display as Metro considers shrinking its MetroAccess paratransit service. It operates the white vans that provide door-to-door transportation for people physically unable to use regular subway or bus service. (Robert McCartney)
My columnist colleague suggests some changes that would tighten up the system and help control the rapidly increasing cost of the transit service for elderly and disabled people. But he notes that one of the richest regions in the nation ought to be able to help people stay as mobile as possible.
"I don't care how we do it," McCartney writes. "I do know that a wealthy community such as ours shouldn't push some of our less advantaged members back into the margins of society just a few years after we invited them to join the mainstream."
The reason that the transit authority staff has grown concerned about MetroAccess is that its costs and ridership are soaring far beyond those of Metrorail and Metrobus. The staff projects that ridership will increase to 3.6 million trips annually by fiscal year 2014. That would be a 50 increase over fiscal year 2010, which ends July 1.
MetroAccess is a pretty good deal compared to the basic minimums required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA requires transit agencies to provide service up to three-quarters of a mile from their fixed routes. Riders must be provided with curb to curb service, the ADA says.
Metro provides service beyond the minimum range, and it's door to door. The MetroAccess operating budget has increased from about $60 million to $80 million this year. It could reach $100 million in fiscal 2011. Under ADA rules, riders can be charged up to twice the comparable fixed-route fare. Under Metro rules, riders pay only $2.50 for a one-way trip. That covers 5 percent of the cost.
I think the MetroAccess fare has to go up, along with that of Metrorail and Metrobus, and that eligibility enforcement should be tightened. But Metro -- and the region that subsidizes MetroAccess -- don't need to go for the higher-end fare proposals or the ADA minimum on the service areas. We still can do better than that.
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