WASHINGTON – The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s MetroAccess service for disabled passengers has improved, but it remains inefficient and frustrating for users, according to a study released Wednesday.
The service has long been plagued by complaints of overly long trips, erratic pick-up and drop-off times and high employee turnover.
Problems arose with MetroAccess and its contractor MV Transportation Inc. in 2006 when service quality came into question. Metro implemented several changes, including a switch to door-to-door service rather than curb-to-curb.
The study by TranSystems Corp. presented to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found improvements in MetroAccess’ on-time performance for pick-ups from 91 percent in 2006 to nearly 96 percent in 2008, but found that drop-offs were frequently late or excessively early.
Of trips with appointment drop-off times, 19 percent of riders were dropped off late and 53 percent were dropped off more than 30 minutes early.
Harold Snider, chairman of the Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities, usually rides MetroAccess six times a week. An 18-mile trip to work sometimes takes as long as two hours, he said.
“That’s unconscionable,” said Snider, who is blind. “The drivers often get lost. And even when we have other passengers on board, the drivers get doubly lost.”
The lack of experienced drivers could be due to high employee turnover. The turnover rate for drivers was 111 percent in the 12-month span from June 2007 to July 2008.
This means that the number of drivers who left the position in that span was 11 percent greater than the number on staff. The rates for reservationists and dispatchers were 121 percent and 89 percent respectively.
These were about four times higher than typical rates, according to Klancher. The study blamed the high rates on difficult work conditions.
“The report does identify relatively low fringe benefits, relatively low pay and also that these jobs are very difficult to do,” Klancher said.
All of these problems are exacerbated by increased ridership. MetroAccess now makes about 8,000 trips per day, compared to 6,000 two years ago.
The study recommended that Metro work with MV Transportation Inc. to improve employee conditions, tighten on-time performance standards and employ more than one contractor.
MetroAccess Director Christian Kent called the report “a very fair and balanced review.” He said Metro would continue to improve its service for the disabled, even as ridership grows.
“It has been a challenge for us in some ways to keep up with the demand even as we make improvements,” he said. “I look forward to working with Metro on implementation of the recommendations.”