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Cap Metro board hears recommendations for altering MetroAccess service

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Capital Metro staff addressed the always-delicate issue of MetroAccess at a presentation before a joint meeting of the Operations/Planning and Finance/Audit committees yesterday. Attempting to juggle community needs, federal requirements, and cold fiscal reality, board members heard information they will need to consider paratransit policies going forward concerning service area, service levels, and eligibility.


Executive Vice President Elaine Timbes provided the board with five possible options to consider for expanding MetroAccess service and the resulting projected cost of those expanded services. As it stands, Cap Metro provides MetroAccess services to all eligible riders for trips that begin and end within three-fourths mile of any local fixed route. This satisfies the minimum requirements established by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Timbes called this the “base” service.


The first option staff presented was the “base plus grandfathered.” As a result of board action taken in 2005 to establish the MetroAccess service corridor as three-quarters of a mile, Capital Metro had to transition 1,200 clients living outside that area out of the system. Some 800 of those were successfully transitioned – either by their moving into the service area or by Cap Metro phasing them out of the MetroAccess program – leaving 400 clients currently being served. The base-plus-grandfathered option, therefore, would entail the transit agency re-expanding MetroAccess service to those 800 no longer served.


Under the base-plus-grandfathered option, in FY2010, Timbes said, staff projects a jump in annual rides from 670,292 (base) to 799,171 and a rise in expenditures from $22.2 million to $27.8 million.


Under Option Two, the base three-quarter-mile area would be expanded to include all Cap Metro express routes. According to staff projections, this option would increase annual trips to 683,918 and annual expenditures to $23.1 million.


Option Three would involve adding three-quarter mile to the base service area, expanding the distance of MetroAccess service from any local fixed route to 1.5 miles. Projected trips under this plan would jump to 749,107 and expenditures would rise to $26.6. Option Four, a combination plan, would both add .75 mile to the service area and expand it to include express routes, for a total of 766,449 trips and $27.4 million in annual expenditures.


And finally, Option Five, which would expand MetroAccess service to the entire Cap Metro service area, would mean projected trips of 873,975 and yearly costs totaling $36.4 million.


In short, Timbes and staff were showing that any expansion in Metro Access service would result in increased costs for the transit agency, anywhere from $1 million annually to $14 million. Considering the state of the economy, and of Cap Metro’s shaky financial situation, the board was bound to be concerned.


Add into the equation that all of these options would greatly decrease the number of fixed route service trips in FY2010 while only slightly increasing MetroAccess trips, and considering that MetroAccess trips account for about 14 percent of the agency’s budget but only make up about 2 percent of its ridership, and it was clear other options were needed.


So staff also drew up recommendations for reducing costs without too greatly altering MetroAccess service.


Several of those recommendations could bring immediate savings to the cash-strapped agency while still meeting or exceeding ADA standards. For example, according to staff projections, shortening weekday reservation hours by three hours would equal an annual cost savings of almost $69,000. Reducing the window for advance reservation from six days to three would mean a savings of $268,300.


Making the eligibility-application process more involved could save Cap Metro $1 million a year. Meanwhile, placing a limit on the agency’s cost for providing vouchers on request for subsidized taxi rides and eliminating same-day service for open return service for certain trips (e.g., to doctor’s offices and jury duty) would result in nearly $300,000 in reduced costs.


Another of those recommendations –one that came with no official cost savings projections — would involve changing the basic MetroAccess service from door-through-door to curb-to-curb, which, according to Inez Evans, the director of Cap Metro’s paratransit services, would increase efficiency throughout the system.


It’s hard to say how these ideas will play in the community. Timbes told the board that staff will begin the community-outreach and -input process in May or June, followed by meetings and board approval of staff policies in June. Timbes hopes to have the ADA plan updated in July followed by board approval later that month.

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