True Cap Metro Horror Stories: Part Two
Below I provide another thread of communications between transit activists here in Austin. We share the concerns expressed below. The Central Texas Chapter of the BPP stands ready to assist in any way we can. Of course, the identities of persons mentioned herein may or may not reflect actual persons or events. Readers can decide what to believe or reject as mere fantasy.
Power to the Peeps!
Pat et al,
I truly believe that fixed route riders would be highly receptive to an alliance to ward off the pitting of one group against another. There is even a new taxi driver group who would stand with us. we know just as everyone in Austin and many other parts of the country that the train riders, and more so, the train system developers are the beneficiaries of this hijacking of public money, not the working class riders of STS and fixed route.
What has kept us from doing this? We own the system. we should make the decisions. Don't we deserve more than the tiny measure of power the transit authority meters out with CSAC and Access? The staff alone that monitors these meetings costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and for what? Certainly not cake distribution.
What better place than Austin to engage this enemy that threatens to ruin transit all across the US?
We should be framing this discussion, not Timbes, Evans and Martinez. They don't ride the bus.
A lot of taxpayers, including all of us are furious at metro, yet we defer. Don't we love ourselves and each other enough to stand up against someone who is hurting us?
From: Pat <email@example.com>
To: Diane <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: David Patterson <email@example.com>; Malcolm Graham <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Sandy Seekamp <email@example.com>; Boone Blocker <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Jane Lansaw <email@example.com>; John Meinkowsky <firstname.lastname@example.org>; glenn gaven <email@example.com>; Michael Zitz-Evancih <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wed, Apr 28, 2010 12:11 am
Subject: unacceptable developments at the Metro operations meeting april 2010
I don't know how much of this I can cover at the subcommittee tomorrow, (thanks DP and Mal for giving me a slot to do this), so I want all of you to know the full picture now instead of later. And since DP is right that much fixed route will need to be discussed because of the boards approval of fall changes, I don't know how much time is reasonable to spend on this. Diane has the rare talent to give a much more condensed version of all this than I can. Guess it depends on what else we have like:
What is the result of new business from the last access meeting: do drivers start the 5 minute clock when they arrive or does it start when they contact you at your door;
Also, a recent fiasco involving passengers who were not allowed on an Sts Vehicle because supposedly "the system was down" and dispatchers claimed they were not listed as escorts when in fact they were scheduled as such. This led to a 45 minute standoff in a parking lot where the dispatcher urged the driver to call the cops if the STS passengers did not leave the vehicle.
And lastly, the matter which I brought up about the new policy change of forcing passengers who live in withdrawn units to come into the ADA service area to be picked up and dropped off - of course neither Access nor the MMWG knew about this change.
Following is a summary of the one hour operations meeting (its recorded if anyone wants a copy), which occurred before the regular board meeting.
Several months ago, the board asked Elaine Tims (I'm not interested in how to spell her last name), VP, just under Doug Allen to do an analysis of Metro Access. The purpose, as you will shortly see, is to present proposed changes to Metro Access to the board, (so they can ask questions), before public input occurs. It is Metros hope that the board will vote on these changes, in June so that an updated plan can be submitted to FTA. And of course, (it is typical of Cap Metros SOP), that none of this was presented to the MMWG for study an analysis as per the 2008 federal court mandate. And furthermore, chair Martinez stated that they wanted board input before the process of obtaining public input could occur for these changes. So do you now know whose side chair Martinez is on? (He alluded to this again at the regular board meeting when DP rightfully stated that neither Access or the MMWG was consulted about these proposed changes)
And one final point before continuing: It is truly revealing that Cap Metro suddenly proposes sweeping changes just at the time FTA violations have come to light. Now they will spend the next several months engaging in the public input process and attempt to sweep these violations under the rug, i.e. never make the necessary changes to both the certification and appeals process.
The presentation is broken into two parts: 1 the paratransit service area; and 2, the actual level of paratransit service and policies relating to that service.
The paratransit service area
Much of this is about costs, not very exciting I admit, but they are an important tool Metro is using to manipulate the board into what they want.
Elaine presented many slides showing various scenarios for STS Service:
The base level which is the current 3/4 mile from fixed route;
The second level which also includes approximately 1200 STS passengers who are currently being phased out of STS service , (details further found);
The third level which proposes to make the corridor 1.5 miles either side of fixed route;
Another level which proposes to encompass the entire service area.
This data was mainly gathered from a paper by the Texas transportation institute, 2009 - most of this data was obtained from Cap Metro itself. You'll see the importance of this shortly. I have the Pdf file if anyone wants it.
For Metros entire service area, the TTI report states that approximately 14 percent of this population is mobility impaired, (I assume disabled as per the 2008 ADA amendment), and Metro provides service to about 6 percent of this total. So basically, Metro provides STS for about 1 percent of the total population in its service area.
For the base level of STS coverage, (the one currently in place, only 3/4 mile either side of fixed route, it does not include units that have withdrawn from the election - Phleugerville, Rollingwood, etc.) it is about 600,000 trips per year.
For the top level of STS service, (the entire service area), it is an extra 200,000 to 250,000 STS trips per year.
Elaine stated that in 2005, a decision was made to cut STS service to 3/4 mile from fixed route. Of course, no public input was gathered and no board approval was sought, the policy was just changed.
She said that this decision adversely affected about 1200 STS passengers, of which 800 have already been transitioned off the service. Yes, that is correct, 800 have been somehow gotten rid of. And now there are about 400 left who they are still transitioning off the service. (these are her words, not mine.)
From the cost to cover the base level of service to add coverage for these 1200 passengers, (grandfather them in) is about $4 million more per year.
To cover 1.5 miles either side of fixed route is about $9.5 million extra
And to cover the entire service area is an extra $15 million.
Then she stated that the next slide is something that Doug Allan just loves.
It is an impact analysis which assumes that Metro will not be getting much more money during the next 5 years, (sales tax not increasing dramatically, etc.)
She stated that if more money is spent to enlarge the current STS area, that it would be taken from fixed route, not the train.
If they grandfathered in the 1200 passengers, then she claimed it would reduced the number of fixed route bus trips by one and a quarter million.
If entire Metro service area is covered, then 5 million fixed route bus trips would be cut.
Therefore, the extra 250,000 STS trips to provide the maximum coverage costs 5 million fixed route trips, or 25 fixed route trips for each extra STS trip not currently in the budget.
Do you see their strategy? We can't expand STS if it means cutting fixed route! And believe me, if STS is expanded, they will find a way to let the fixed route ridership know that they are having to suffer at our expense.
And this is certainly along the lines of a statement made by Chad Ballentine, (it was recorded), at the applications work session where I was lucky enough to be Diane's secretary for the day. He stated that it was unreasonable to have two standards, one for fixed route passengers and another for STS passengers. This means, according to him, that the bus driver should not be required to operate as per the ADA bus drivers manual, i.e. stop when he approaches a visually impaired passenger to announce which bus it is - oh yes, as per Nancy Crowther, Metro's long-time and revered ADA specialist, regardless of your disability, you should stand up and flag down the bus, even if you don't know if its a bus or large truck, they all sound the same do they not!
Elaine then talked about how the STS budget is 23.5 million, (not including administrative costs, claiming this is just the cost to provide STS, really not sure what she means here), which is 14 percent of the total Cap Metro budget. But she states that this is only serving 2.2 percent of the metro ridership. Yes, there were some comments from board members, not sure who, about this - so much is being spent on just a few.
My comment to them, if I decide to make any speeches instead of using email to them would be along the lines that if they don't like the federally mandated costs associated with ensuring a semblance of equality for the disabled transit dependent, then they can just get the fuck out of this country and go to a dictatorship in the middle east, perhaps to Iran, where a dictatorship is, and has been, the norm. And by the way, I really don't care if this is copied as is to any of the board or not.
Second part: Inez presents proposed MetroAccess changes, something I doubt has been presented to the MMWG, and guaranteed not to have been presented to Access.
Before continuing, note that unlike Elaine, Inez had little if any true data to back up justification for the following changes.
Change one. Go from door to door to curb to curb.
Of course, she does state that they would follow the ADA minimum by providing door to door service to those who request it/need it. Perhaps is the board approves this change, then everyone on STS should request door to door - no regulations exists which force us to be evaluated to see whether we need curb to curb or door to door. She presented no data to justify this change; no costs savings etc. were mentioned.
Second change: Change reservations hours for the week from 7 to 7 to 8 to 5; leaving the weekend of 8 to 5 alone, at least for now, (the weekend cut in reservation hours will be coming, read on).
She claims that this will improve efficiency, especially since they now have several mechanisms to help with trip scheduling: the IVR and Web based scheduling form.
She states that these 2 scheduling mechanisms mean Metro is doing more than the ADA minimum and in fact that the use of these mechanisms mean that they can legally cut reservation hours on the weekend to zero.
Third change: change the advanced reservations from 6 days to 1 to 3 days in advance.
She claims that changing to 3 days in advance will reduce late cancelations and no-shows, yet she presented only sparse data, certainly not hard data to justify this.
And of course there was comparison to other peer cities, those cities who also have 1 to 3 day advanced reservations.
And she stated that the ADA regs only state that trips must be able to be made the day before, i.e. that it would be OK to just have a one-day advanced reservation period. However, the regs state that all trips made the day before must be accommodated - something Metro could never do if they went to a one-day in advance time period.
This point is important, because the ADA states that the time for the negotiated pickup must be within one hour either side of the pickup time, i.e. you want a pickup time at 2 pm so they cannot force you to be picked up at 3:15 or 12:45.
Furthermore, as we all know, the IVR is not an acceptable mechanism to schedule trips. It is inconsistent to say the least even if you try to copy trips from one day to another - I have already submitted several complaint about this feature, using some 4 letter words that I hope will brighten Veronicas day.
And regarding the web based scheduling form:
It does not schedule trips in real time, a staff member must look at these forms and try to schedule these trips at a time which is certainly quite a bit later than when you submitted the form. The passenger is then notified by email of the scheduled time. This is definitely not equivalent to, and substantially inferior to what can be accomplished with a real live reservationist. Furthermore, when I used this form for the first time today, I noticed that there were no fields for comments such as what entrance you would be at, whether you could leave earlier than the time you indicated, (something which the IVR does have), whether you needed to "plus" the trip, etc. All these codes can be entered in when speaking to a reservationist.
Yet, it is clear that Inez will at some point try to state that since we have these mechanisms available to us, that we don't need and the law does not require reservation hours for the weekend. I believe this is similar to what DART uses in Dallas.
Now the true manipulation starts - discussion of taxi vouchers. Not a change, at least yet.
The current budget has 75 percent dedicated Metro vehicles and 25 percent for taxi vouchers. Inez asked the board to consider whether they wanted taxi vouchers to stay at this current level or perhaps to be only 10 percent of the Sts budget. She then admitted that overflow trips, (those Metro cannot accommodate and therefore give as full pay taxi vouchers), are now causing taxi vouchers to be 30 percent of the Sts budget, not 25 percent.
So how do you imagine that taxi voucher use can drop to 10 percent of the budget, while Metro is somehow able to accomplish the schedule - easy, just start cutting people off the system and you can then accommodate the rest with less taxi voucher use. Here it is in black and white. The evidence cannot be clearer.
She says that the cost per paratransit trip is $42.80.
This is interesting because I believe the cost in the TTI report, (obtained from Metro data), is about $38 per trip. I will check this.
This discrepancy is revealing because maybe we can make a case that most of their other data is invalid also.
She stated that taxi vouchers costs $16,50 with full pays averaging about $28. No cost was given for what the average taxi voucher costs, (factoring in that the majority of trips are not full pay).
At least one board member commented, with skepticism, that why would you want to decrease taxi voucher use when they are cheaper than trips in a Metro vehicle.
Well, here is the spin Inez spun.
First, she claimed that cab companies are also providing a shared ride service, that when a cab driver does subscription service, (picking up several passengers), that they charge $16.50 for each passenger. Worthless point because Metro would also cost $42.80 per passenger, but she wants to imply that the cab company is engaged in cheating!
More important to the manipulation game is Inez's justification to cut down on taxi vouchers is that the ADA guarantees someone a ride while someone taking a taxi voucher is not guaranteed a ride, especially in times like south by southwest, etc.
She further states that since Metro cannot control the over 400 independent contractors, (cab drivers), that they have no way to guarantee that an STS passenger get a ride. (Her meaning: if we control dispatch of the cabs, then we guarantee someone getting a ride.)
She then stated that on any given day, they had no idea of how many cab drivers would be available to handle the 500 or 600 cab vouchers.
And finally, she claims if Metro reduces its dependency on cab vouchers, that it will increase the efficiency of MetroAccess. (just how logical is this? Oh, we reduce our dependence on foreign oil and achieve what?)
And she stated Metro would need to purchase an additional 30 vehicles to handle the trip overflow now handled by vouchers. Yet, she does not talk about the cost of these vehicles or the costs to pay drivers.
Her assertion about the ADA guaranteeing a timely or acceptable STS ride is basically total bullshit. The slide below, from Sue Clark, FTA office of civil rights, (march 2009) illustrates this point.
Pickup times may be negotiated, but only within one hour before or after the individual's requested pickup time
Scheduling by appointment time is permitted, but not required
Therefore, taxi vouchers are more equivalent to fixed route bus service, especially when someone can arrange in advance with a taxi driver of their preference. A taxi voucher would virtually guarantee that an appointment would be made on time, but paratransit vehicles are not mandated to get you to an appointment on time. Instead, there are regulations governing unacceptable levels of untimely pickups and/or drop off times, but not on an individual trip basis. And although a person is theoretically guaranteed not to miss a ride on a Metro vehicle, it is critical to notice that this ride is not mandated to be on time, (it could be an hour before or later), and it certainly is not reasonable as per new FTA guidelines.
Elaine stated that they want board approval on both service area requirements and changes to MetroAccess by June. They want to submit an updated plan to FTA in July.