Metro Access Van (Credit: King County)

Michelle Baruchman in The Seattle Times, on Metro’s new 5-year contract with MV Transportation to provide Access service:

Advocates in King County say they have raised concerns about Access for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the county began planning for an audit of the service, said Deputy King County Auditor Ben Thompson.

In June 2017, the county Auditor’s Office released a report that laid bare issues that contributed to low ridership and costly services.

Among them: limited payment options; lack of outreach to low-income populations, communities of color and people with limited English proficiency; inadequate oversight over contractors and ineffective punishments for poor service; excessively long trips and frequently late or early arrivals.

Paratransit service is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like many federal mandates, it comes without much funding, making it susceptible to budget cuts when downturns hit. Furthermore, King County ordinances mandate that the service go above and beyond the ADA minimum.

My understanding is that, at the low point, there were just a half-dozen Metro employees overseeing what was one of the largest contracts in King County, down from more than triple that before the financial crisis.

This new contract will take some of the customer service aspects back in-house, meaning Metro should be more responsive to problems.

17 Replies to “A new contract for Metro’s Access program”

  1. Good thing Metro doesn’t hold themselves to the same standards they hold Access or they’d have to fire themselves. Late service, early service, service that never shows up, etc.

  2. Technically, does an agency have the option to forego FTA money, in exchange for not running paratransit? If the FTA money KCM is able to get is less than what they spend on paratransit, is it really worth it?

    Or, as a compromise, could paratransit trips be limited to trips to or from medical appointments only? To get groceries, people without other options can use delivery services instead, saving the taxpayers money.

    1. You describe a false dichotomy between “taxpayers” and “people who use Access.” People who use Access are taxpayers. And if we had no federal requirements, we’d still provide them the program. Because we aren’t assholes who think disabled people should just stay out of sight except when doing “worthy” trips to doctors.

      1. also +1

        There is an undercurrent on this site- certainly not everyone, but it’s there – that everybody can walk or bike or order everything online (which of course, although possible, eliminates public life and human contact). I’ve seen comments actually calling people who may not be able to (or want to) walk 1/2 mile or more each way, every day in all possible weather conditions to transit service “lazy” but would castigate them for wanting to drive instead of that; or who consider a walk from Westlake to Mercer a viable alternative to a bus using Mercer. Hey, I walk 3 miles every day as my commute and enjoy it, but that by no means is or will ever be everybody – and someday, hopefully far in the future, it will not be me any longer either.

        “There but for the grace of God” and all that might be good to remember. We don’t get to be thirty forever.

      2. There we have it, the classic political correctness attack on anyone who dares suggest that maybe there might be waste, inefficiency or outright fraud associated with paratransit. “The solution is to leave disabled people stuck at home? Leave homeless people to die outside? ” Right, anyone who even asks about accountability is an “asshole” that wants to kick grandma out curb to die. Never mind that just a cursory look into programs like WA State DSHS found things like rent payments to people gaming the system and living in house on Lake Washington. No sir, don’t dare question the homeless industrial complex; the great thing about it is the more government spends the more “demand” they create and since it’s all about helping the disadvantaged nobody can question it.

        Whatever works I guess; made Bernie Sanders a millionaire.

    1. As a non monetary contributor, I’ll add that, after initial really serious problems, it’s working for me just fine; everything I paid for and more! Different, and as an old fart I hate different, but fine. The blue highlight would be nice to get back (after I learned what it was supposed to be) but overall I’d give a slight +.01 to the new format.

      It’s sort of like tolling. You get a big drop after a change and then people start to realize it ain’t so bad. A lot like our cats when we move furniture :=

  3. I realize it’s not politically correct to acknowledge this, but at $38/boarding, the number of paratransit boardings needs to be kept to a minimum of to keep costs from spiraling our of control and taking money away from fixed-route service which carries vastly more people. I know it doesn’t feel good too tell a few old ladies that they should have their groceries delivered, rather than have Metro spend $76/round trip to take them to the store and back, but it’s what basic fiscal prudence requires. Put differently, would you still support paratransit if it meant that your bus route had to drop to every 30 minutes in the evening to pay for it? Or have no service at all on Sundays? One of the reasons Community Transit abandoned all Sunday service for several years is that was the only way they could get out of providing paratransit service on Sundays.

    Currently, paratransit is in this weird state where we allow eligible people to ride it for any purpose, and deter abuse by making the service as inconvenient as possible, with long and unpredictable wait times and travel times. If paratransit we’re as convenient as ordering an Uber, lots more people would use it to travel on a whim, and lots more regular bus service would have to be cut to pay for it.

    1. Political correctness is the heart of the issue. Prior to any staff cuts I know from personal experience Metro extended the boundaries of where they were required to provide service. Everything points to wanton redistribution of funds to contracting agencies. Contracting agencies pay drivers shit (Don’t know if that will get get censored in the response but it’s true). If the contracting agency is paying a staring wage of $16/hr for a split shift drive miles to/from work w/o pay what sort of service do they expect? Not like Access drivers get tips like someone cutting hair or serving Pho. Access was one of the early adopters of the homeless industrial complex model. Is it any surprise that the more we divert to this the more the homeless “problem” increases? It’s classic, the more we spend the more the “problem” increases so… we need to spend more.

      Or, you can just stop feeding the pigeons. Problem solved.

      1. The solution is to leave disabled people stuck at home? Leave homeless people to die outside? Have our parks overrun with homeless people because there’s nowhere else for them to go, or round them up into concentration camps in rural ares? People with disabilities are often poor because it costs money to manage the disability, it prevents them from having a higher-paying job, they can’t ride a regular bus if they can’t walk to the bus stop (and we keep closing stops and reorganizing coverage routes they use), and you think they can afford Uber at $5-10 a pop to go places and have food delivered?

      2. Bernie, above: “Right, anyone who even asks about accountability is an “asshole” that wants to kick grandma out curb to die. Never mind that just a cursory look into programs like WA State DSHS found things like rent payments to people gaming the system and living in house on Lake Washington. No sir, don’t dare question the homeless industrial complex; the great thing about it is the more government spends the more “demand” they create and since it’s all about helping the disadvantaged nobody can question it.”

        You’re conflating multiple issues. Of course there should be accountability and waste should be minimized but there are real people with real needs. Social payments to people in Lake Washington mansions; there may be a few of those but it’s not the vast majority of recipients, and your complaint is disproportional to the problem, as if 70% of the money was going to better-off people and overhead. That’s the “welfare queen” argument we hear about.

        As for strippping out waste, you have to do it in a way that doesn’t do more damage to the primary mission of the program than to the waste sinks. For instance, the new work requirements that some states are imposing, which claim to prevent able-bodied people from being lazy but actually throw off people who are working but have irregular schedules or are seasonal and don’t fit into the “160 hours per quarter” requirements or logistically can’t get the monthly paperwork all in due to limited Internet access or time.

        ” Is it any surprise that the more we divert to this the more the homeless “problem” increases?”

        The problem is not a “problem”, it’s real. The number of homeless closely follows the changes in rents and purchasing power as rents rise, the vacancy rate of low-market units decrease, and basic expenses rise faster than wages (inequality). It doesn’t follow some phantom concern of how much money we spend. The reason homemessness is getting worse (notwithstanding this year’s count, which may be a fluke or undercount or the start of a trend) is we’re not putting enough resources into it, and especially we’re not building enough low-income and workforce housing. Seattle talks about 20,000 per year, the suburbs build hardly anything, but the backlog of affordable housing needs is around 150,000.

  4. WOW. I’m quite surprised how little STB community actually knows on this topic. Discussion around buses and trains are spot on. Throw you guys one article about paratransit (a service provided by EVERY TRANSIT AGENCY) and its crickets or third grader comments.

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