by Sam Handler, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Mobilizing the Region Blog
In recent weeks, paratransit riders on Long Island have reportedly encountered significant challenges, as one county transit operator has made substantial changes to its paratransit service while another seriously considered a fare hike.
According toNewsday,Veolia, which took over Nassau County’s bus operations on January 1, has not implemented formal cuts to the Able-Ride program, but a May 1 efficiency measure has taken a toll on the paratransit service. Since that date, the company has sought to combine Able-Ride customers’ trips when possible, and the impact has been significant: “[w]ith passengers now waiting for fellow riders to get picked up and dropped off, trips have become far less direct, and much longer,” reports Alfonso Castillo. Castillo’s article also points out that the Americans with Disabilities Act “calls for paratransit trips to take about the same amount of time as it would door-to-door for a fixed bus route customer.”
In late 2011, when Nassau signed a contract with Veolia to privatize the county’s bus system, a memorandum of understanding held that the new bus operator would maintain service levels to areas served by Able-Ride for at least three years. While Veolia is right to seek efficiencies, they should not be achieved at the expense of rider convenience or the agreement between Veolia and Nassau County from late last year.
After initial blowback from elected officials and paratransit advocates, Veolia has reportedly worked to improve the situation and has “pulled back” a bit from the changes. It is unclear how the company will adapt service provisions moving forward, however.
Meanwhile, in Suffolk, Suffolk County Accessible Transportation (SCAT) paratransit riders narrowly escaped a proposed $1 fare hike after the legislature tabled the measure yesterday. The fare hike was being considered as a way to mitigate the county’s $530 million deficit and the change would have amounted to an increase of over $500 per year for weekday round trip commuters. The fare increase would have hit riders particularly hard, since many SCAT customers live on limited, fixed incomes.