From A To B (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A to B: The Cost of Making Metro Accessible

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We move now from one big-ticket item, cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, to another, providing reliable, inexpensive, public transportation for the D.C. region's disabled residents. We hear more on our weekly transportation segment, "From A To B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:25
For nearly two decades now, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has offered a program called Metro Access. You've no doubt seen it, it's buses around the city and suburbs. Metro Access is basically a door-to-door ride for people who are unable to use other forms of public transportation. The big problem though is this service is not at all cheap. Jim Hilgen takes a look at the program's costs and why it's so hard to make public transportation accessible to all.

MR. JIM HILGEN

00:00:52
Anne Timley lost her vision in 2001. since then Metro Access has been her main means of getting around and like many riders she's had problems with the service.

MS. ANNE TIMLEY

00:01:03
If you are going someplace the very beginning of the day, and they get you there early and the place isn't open yet, and you're standing outside waiting, and that has happened to me a couple of times. You know, you don't feel safe just standing out there on the street waiting for some building to open.

HILGEN

00:01:21
It's not a surprising story to Patrick Wojahn, chairmen of the Access For All Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government or COG. He says customer service on Metro Access has long been a bone of contention.

MR. PATRICK WOJAHN

00:01:35
Missed appointments, having to wait hours after they schedule an appointment to -- for somebody to actually come and pick them up, for terrible customer service through the paratransit system.

HILGEN

00:01:48
Christian Kent heads Metro's Office of Accessibility. He acknowledges the service is not perfect but says you have to keep the big picture in mind.

MR. CHRISTIAN KENT

00:01:58
Right now, we're providing service that's in excess of 92 percent on time and that's for over 2.4 million customers a year. And, you know, by any industry standard, that's pretty respectable performance.

HILGEN

00:02:11
Metro Access was created after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which required public transit systems across the country to make improvements to their services for disabled riders. But Kent says it was never meant to be a permanent transit solution.

KENT

00:02:27
Establishment of paratransit service was viewed differently by different people. I mean, certainly the fact that it does provide service that bus and rail is not able to provide. I do think that there were many people who felt that if we got to that point in time, where bus and rail were fully accessible, that paratransit would become much less needed. But that has not proven to be the case.

HILGEN

00:02:52
In fact, COG's Wojahn says it's likely the need for paratransit service will grow rather than shrink thanks to aging baby boomers.

WOJAHN

00:03:00
As the number of seniors in our community increase and more and more people are going to need public transportation services and paratransit services to maintain their independence, I predict that the use of Metro Access will increase in the near future.

HILGEN

00:03:15
And that growing demand will further strain the budget of an already overstretched transit agency. Earlier this year, Metro raised fares for Metro Access riders to a maximum of $7.00 per trip, although it can cost the agency on average about $38.00 for this door-to-door service. Wojahn acknowledges the financial realities but says Metro needs to do more to make bus stops and rail stations more accessible so disabled riders can use those methods of getting around.

WOJAHN

00:03:46
I think there's more that we can do to allow people with disabilities to move to fixed route modes of transportation, the buses and the Metro.

HILGEN

00:03:53
Metro's Christian Kent agrees.

KENT

00:03:56
The best answer to that is to definitely make bus and rail available to as many people as possible so that when you come back to paratransit that service is servicing people who really need it. The people who don't have the ability to switch over to bus and rail.

HILGEN

00:04:12
Anne Timley is one of those for whom bus and rail are not real options, at least at the moment. She lives in Fairfax County and says the layout of the suburbs could make it hard to get to bus stops and that is often an issue that lies beyond Metro's control.

TIMLEY

00:04:28
Once the bus stop is put in, Metro does not take charge of it, the county has to then make there's a sidewalk leading to it, make it's got the curb cut.

HILGEN

00:04:38
And Timley's realistic about the odds of getting those sorts of improvements.

TIMLEY

00:04:42
We're competing as pedestrians. You are also competing with the money needed for new roads and for fixing roads and maintenance of roads and so building more sidewalks, that's another transportation cost and fixing the curb cuts is another transportation cost.

HILGEN

00:05:01
And in an era when transit agencies and local governments are already scrounging for funds, riders hoping for substantial changes to Metro Access may be cooling their heels for quite a while. I'm Jim Hilgen.

SHEIR

00:05:20
Do you ride Metro Access? If so, we want to hear from you. What has your experience been like? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org. You also can find us on Facebook or send a tweet to wamumetro.

SHEIR

00:05:44
We'll take another break now, but when we return, what happens when D.C. arts organizations lose a major chunk of federal funding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

00:05:52
Part of the reason for the formation of this particular funding instrument was to compensate for the fact that we don't have a state arts council here and so with that funding resource going away where do we turn? That's what I think we're all grappling with.

SHEIR

00:06:03
Plus, a day in the life of a canvasser.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2

00:06:05
I mean, we do what your mother told you not to, we talk to strangers about politics and we ask them for money.

SHEIR

00:06:11
It's just ahead on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.
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