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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 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, 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, , 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."

(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

The $1.6 billion budget proposal would increase fares by 5 percent while expanding the system's total number of employees by 9 percent, according to The Washington Post.

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. 
Moonwolf95 March 08, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Thank you for covering the meeting, it was nice to meet you. The comment about "No transit authority wants to provide paratransit" is related to the fact that it isn't what a transit authority specializes in - fixed route systems. Paratransit is essentially a "cost of doing business", in that they're required to provide as a result of the ADA - but they generally tend to subcontract the actual service provision to this parties (MV, Veolia being two of the biggest such contractors). (It's worth noting that the surrounding counties essentially are contracting WMATA to fulfill *their* paratransit requirements for them using MetroAccess). It's less a case of feeling like we're not wanted by the transit authority, more that sometimes WMATA *institutionally* looks at it being that "cost of doing business" more than it sees it as a service the same way it does fixed route - especially when it comes to budget time :) ~Kathi
Michael Theis March 08, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Hi Kathi, Thanks for your comment. It was nice meeting you and Pat as well. Overall, do you think Metro officials are genuinely receptive to the feedback from MetroAccess customers?
Justin Fair March 11, 2012 at 07:11 PM
I'm glad this is being talked about. A big plus that the quote on the lack of cleaning/replacing light fixtures is included in this article.
Moonwolf95 March 13, 2012 at 03:35 PM
For some reason my attempt to reply to this vanished - try again. *Individually* yes, WMATA people are receptive. *Institutionally*, WMATA tends to not be quite so receptive. WMATA has some good people working for them in the Department of Access Services/ADAP offices, as well as the MetroAccess side. But there's only so much they can do.
Moonwolf95 March 13, 2012 at 03:37 PM
The Bus and Rail Subcommittee of the Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) has been trying to work on lighting issues with WMATA for a while now, not sure where they're *at* or why the delays though.

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