Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If you Think Metro is Bad ...

In the metro DC area we have this para-transit service for disabled people, that's well, really inefficient as demonstrated by this photo of two para transit vehicles showing up at one house. Tax dollars at work. (Photo via JoshuaDavisPhotography)

... Imagine having to depend on MetroAccess. My jaw dropped reading this.

From HellOnWheelz:
This is how your daily commute would work if it was run by MetroAccess rules.

First, you have to see if you qualify to even ride. If you can take a cab, or use Bikeshare, then you're not even allowed to use it. Fewer people to move means less cost for Metro, regardless of your need to use it to get to work.

Then, you have to decide on all the trips you want to take on a given day, but you have to decide it 24 hours in advance--by 4:30 p.m. the previous day. Any later, and you can't change it.

You can cancel a trip, but it has to be two hours before. Any later and, like a kid in school, you get a demerit (more on that later) to go in your file.

Any spontaneity on your part is your own problem. If you're late to the ride for any reason, say a meeting runs long, deal with it or cancel it – two hours ago.

This is Metro's idea of "independence."

Once you've planned your trip, you pay in advance. You assume it will cost you $7 each trip - it might be less, but the system doesn't give consistent fare quotes, even if it's the same trip you take every day at the same time.

Then, you have to stand on the "platform" for your "train," which can show up any time inside a 30-minute window (or even later, without penalty to Metro). If it does not arrive, you can call Metro and ask where your ride is, and they will give you some random guess. (Ever efficient, Metro uses the same random number generator it uses to calculate fares to calculate arrival times.)

Just like the airlines, trips get overbooked. Your trip can get bumped, and when it does, your wait can be a couple of hours.

Once your "train" arrives, you have five minutes to find it and get in or else it will leave without you, and you’ll get an even bigger demerit.

Your ride may not be anywhere close to the place you are waiting, so you’d better hustle. If it leaves without you a couple of times, not only are you stranded, but you’ll also have enough demerits so that Metro will revoke your ability to use it for a month.

Your trip, say from Dupont Circle to L'Enfant Plaza, often takes a few detours - like to Rockville, then to New Carrolton, then (hopefully) to your final destination.

Metro will tell everyone that this is "equivalent" to normal trip times, but forgets to mention that their definition of equivalency means "anywhere up to an hour longer."

Metro opens wormholes.

During your trip, three other people will likely be squished into the seat you're on. That’s after you sit outside one or more buildings for an hour or so. This is a shared ride, after all, and cattle should be grateful.

While on board, you are not allowed to get off anywhere else but where you decided the day before. If you need a bathroom break whilst being taken on an involuntary sight-seeing tour of the metro DC area, Metro *may* provide a cup. You are responsible for emptying it. This is "more generous than the ADA requires," and you should be grateful you even got that.

When you are finally delivered to your final destination, Metro acts as if they've performed a miracle (like they did when they opened the new Foggy Bottom escalator) and boasts about its "door-to-door service." They brag about providing a service that should be viewed as a basic right of the disabled rider when in reality it also works out to Metro's benefit by avoiding lawsuits. Bow down and praise Metro for their munificence on your behalf.

Oh, and if you want to complain about an unwarranted no show or late cancel is as difficult as reporting a sexual harassment incident. Sure, there's a form, but is anyone listening? And the 24-hour voice mail numbers? Usually, the boxes are full, won't accept messages. When they do, no one calls backs.

Anyway, you get the idea. Taking a "Metro" like this would suck.

Paratransit, according to the ADA, is supposed to be comparable to regular transit. So on the turn about - how would you like these rules for your commute?

These aren't the only Metro Access Rules. The official "Orientation Handbook" is 21 pages of rules and only hits the high points. The above rules are the most annoying and least confusing.

Let me make this clear: Metro does not condone our "abuse by rules," but when the tone of their PR reads “more generous than the ADA requires” and what is under discussion is the fact that it is more sensible and humane for a driver to go get a blind person from the doorway and guide them to the vehicle than sit on a busy street and leave after five minutes because the blind person can’t find the vehicle – ask yourself “generosity” or “practicality” and examine the deflection in the terminology used.

As bad as this all sounds, Metro Access is better than a decade ago. A decade ago you couldn’t cancel a trip two hours before. That also had to be done before 4:30 p.m. the day before or the demerits kicked in. There was no one to call and get even a half-truth about where your ride was if it didn't show up. If your trip got bumped, maybe they sent another van and maybe not. There weren't any GPS systems, just maps (and some of those out of date). The database handling the riders data and trip data was corrupt.

There is good leadership in Metro's Office of Accessibility, and it has set the tone that has allowed the accomplishment of these and many other tremendous advancements over the last 10 years despite a culture stemming from Metro being transit primarily for the able-bodied.

There are good people in Metro Access, too. I have been stranded and had road supervisors "tag" me on as a companion on someone else's trip when a nearly dead wheelchair battery would've meant one long, cold night out by the side of the road.

On the flipside, with a ride scheduled after out-patient surgery, I couldn't get the trip moved to four hours earlier - neither could the charge nurse who said she had NEVER been talked to by anyone in that tone before. Over medical objections, I took the bus home that day.

The issues here are with the institutions not the people. Blind adherence to rules doesn't work in the real world. There are times when people need to use their own initiative to solve problems.

There are two decided barriers to unsucking Metro Access:

1. It isn't a fixed route system, and it isn't an on-demand system.
Metro Access is neither bus nor train nor taxi. It exists somewhere in between. Metro operates fixed route transit. It contracts out Metro Access (and the prime contractor has sub contractors ). Responsibility is a moving target.
2. It isn't a simple system.
As with all things Metro – if it doesn’t fit in a sound bite anymore: then it can be hidden, obfuscated, and criticism deflected.
If it can't be talked about it can't be fixed.

After something has happened, after someone has finally gotten someone outside of our small world to listen and to take the matter seriously – then the response is “No one should have to do that.”

Problem is, when you’re living your commute by Metro rules, and you’re stuck on that "hot van" for hours (Yes,we get those – only with drivers who, for whatever reason, won’t turn the heat off.), stuck on a van because its GPS is broken, and you're trying to take aim on that small Styrofoam cup, the words “No one should have to do that” is small comfort.
Other items:
Metro doles out 2,000 hours of OT for brake problem it knew about for 6 years (Examiner)
Metro needs to ditch the entrance fee (Raschke on Transport)
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