Metro Criticized Over Disability Access
Discussion at last night's Metro budget hearing in Hyattsville shines spotlight on concerns of disabled commuters.
About two dozen commuters, the overwhelming majority of them users of Metro's disability access services, protested proposed Metro fare hikes at a public hearing last night at Hyattsville United Methodist Church, a stones throw from the Prince George's Plaza Metro Station.
Much of their anger was directed at the 40 cent increase in the base $7 fare for MetroAccess, which provides transportation for disabled commuters who otherwise would have a difficult time using bus or rail services.
"I would like for you to test drive my life for a few months and tell me that you can afford an increase, I bet you couldn't do it" said Ty Bush, speaking while seated in an electric wheelchair. "Please do not go up on the prices for us."
Advocates for disabled commuters at the meeting, the last in a series of six public hearings on the transit system's 2013 budget, reminded Metro officials that many MetroAccess customers are on fixed incomes. Facing a lax economy, the high cost of medication and persistently high underemployment among the disabled population, and still adjusting to MetroAccess fare hikes in 2011, many said that they would be forced to cut down on their trips out if MetroAccess fares were increased.
"So many of us cannot get to where we need to go because of the high MetroAccess fare," said Linda Sherrod, a MetroAccess rider since 1995. "I would appreciate it if somehow, some way, the fare could be a flat fee. It needs to be a flat fee."
Calls for a flat MetroAccess fee were repeated throughout the night, with many critical of the system's complicated fare structure, which is tied to the commuter cost of bus and rail transit options between two destinations.
"Our current fare structure must be revisited," said MetroAccess commuter Timm Harriston"MetroAccess is fast becoming a system for the haves, rather than the have nots."
College Park City Council member Patrick Wojahn (District 1), a member of the Access for All Committee, stressed the importance of keeping Metro affordable for people with disabilities. He also spoke against surcharges proposed for cash payments on bus services.
Riverdale Park resident Kathi Spray said that MetroAccess riders sometimes feel like they are not wanted.
"No transit provider in the country wants to provide paratransit," said Spray, who noted that the system is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. "The fares themselves can become barriers and defeat the purpose of the ADA itself."
She urged Metro to decouple MetroAceess fare discussions from the larger budget process so that MetroAccess commuters could more directly address fare and service issues.
"You have to take a step back and give it the time for proper thought," said Spray.
Some of the concerns expressed at last night's meeting touched on more system-wide issues.
"The stations are filthy," said Hyattsville resident Worthington Tilford, who uses Metro every day to get to his job near the New York Avenue Metro Station. "The light fixtures haven't been cleaned in a lifetime. If you did that, the stations would be 10 times brighter."
Metro bus driver Ceasar Rorie, who drives a route between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, was critical of a Montgomery County program which gives free rides to students under the age of 18. He said that without any "skin in the game" the children are often unruly and sometimes violent.
Alvin Nichols, who represents Prince George's County on Metro's Board of Directors said that system officials would be paying close attention to the public comments.
"At a board level, and working with the general manager and his team, we discuss the comments," said Nichols after the meeting. "There aren't any perfect solutions, but everyone's comments are important. I personally take it seriously."
Metro's 2013 budget unveiled last January proposed hiring more than 1,000 employees in a plan that also raises bus, rail and parking rates across the system.
Among the changes:
- Base rail fares would increase from $1.60 to $1.70.
- Minimum "peak" rail fare would increase from $1.95 to a minimum of $2.10; it would max out at $5.75 for the system's farthest reaching areas, up from the current $5.
- Base bus fares would go from $1.50 to $1.60.
- Parking fees would increase $.25.
- Those who use paper farecards would pay one-way flat fares instead of fees based on station. The cards would cost $6 during rush hour and $4 in off-peak times, regardless of where the rider traveled.
- Day passes would no longer be an option.
- The one bright spot for riders who remember the fare hikes of two years ago: Metro would eliminate the "peak of the peak" surcharge passed on to riders during rush hour.