Sunday, March 28, 2010

DC Metro plans cuts to accessible transit service for people with disabilities, just as its usage is projected to grow 50%

From The Washington Post:

Metro plans to curtail its expensive-to-operate transit alternative for the elderly and disabled just as ridership for the service is projected to grow 50 percent over the next four years.

The agency has proposed the changes as part of an effort to cover a $190 million gap in its operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Staff members outlined the changes at a meeting on March 25, where the board of directors also considered a $1.9 billion contract for 748 new rail cars, with an initial 64 cars for the expansion of the subway system to Dulles International Airport. The board deferred action on the contract.

Annual passenger trips for the MetroAccess transit service have increased from about 1.5 million in 2007 to a projected 2.4 million this year as the population of older and disabled people in the region has grown. Meanwhile, its operating budget has increased from about $60 million to $80 million this year, and is projected to reach $100 million in 2011, according to Metro data.

But the $2.50 fare that customers pay for each one-way trip represents only 5 percent of the cost, Metro said. That amount of subsidy is not sustainable, according to Metro board Chairman Peter Benjamin and an assessment made this month by veteran transit consultant David Gunn, a former Metro general manager.

The service offered by Metro is more generous than what is required by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and Metro's proposal to restrict it would bring it closer to those standards.

For example, MetroAccess would limit service to within a three-quarter-mile distance from existing bus and rail service, in line with ADA standards, saving $2.4 million a year. Currently, the service operates beyond the three-quarter-mile radius where no other public transportation exists.

Another proposal would increase MetroAccess fares to the maximum allowed under the ADA definition, or twice the equivalent fare on regular bus routes. Metro anticipates the fare increase would encourage some MetroAccess riders to switch to using regular bus and rail service under a free ride program aimed at reducing their reliance on paratransit.

In July, Metro plans to implement a policy of conditional eligibility for the use of MetroAccess, which would constrain use of the service depending on a person's situation. "For instance, a person with low vision might be able to take Metrobus during the day but would need to take MetroAccess at night," said Selene Faer Dalton-Kumins, director of MetroAccess Service.