The Washington Examiner: Riders with Disabilities Worried about MetroAccess Fare Hike

February 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm Leave a comment

ECNV Peer Mentor Ed McEntee and MetroAccessWashington Examiner featuring Ed McEntee, ECNV Peer Mentor!

By Kytja Weir
Examiner Staff Writer
February 26, 2011; 8:05 PM

MetroAccess users will start paying higher fares beginning Sunday, in the latest step aimed at reining in costs and curtailing use of Metro’s paratransit service. But the increase isn’t sitting well with the disabled riders who rely on the shared ride service to get to their jobs and doctor’s appointments.

“It’s going to be catastrophic for people who are on public benefits,” said Ed McEntee, a counselor at the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia who relies on the service.

The fares will jump to twice the rate of a comparable Metrorail or bus trip to a maximum of $7, up from the base fare of $2.50 charged as recently as June. That’s on top of up to $7 more in surcharges if riders travel outside the system’s new boundaries.

For McEntee, that means his daily trip to work from Fairfax County to Arlington will double from $3 to about $6, making his monthly transit cost about $240. The 67-year-old contracted polio as a child and uses a motorized wheelchair.

“I can suck it up in my situation,” he said, but noted that those making some $674 per month in Social Security benefits may not be able to take the hit.

“It is basically a 100 percent increase,” he said. “I don’t think that the average public would stand for an 100 percent increase. But they are within the law. They have been trying to weed out people who are using the system.”

Metro has been grappling with increasing demand for the federally mandated service, with ridership growing some 20 percent per year and costs nearly doubling in just four years to $103.7 million in the current budget. The average trip costs the agency about $40 to deliver.

The agency has taken several steps to change the equation. It boosted fares by a smaller amount in July and changed the travel boundaries for the trips, charging a premium if users go outside the bounds.

The agency credits the changes with stifling some of MetroAccess’ growth. Ridership grew just 3 percent in the first six months since the changes, instead of the 12 percent the agency had expected.

“We understand fare adjustments are never easy for any of our customers,” spokeswoman Angela Gates said. “We have a fully accessible bus and rail system… We hope they could use that as an alternative.”

Raynette Anderson said that wheelchair users like her may be forced to ride in the streets, unable to afford what could be $14 round trips on MetroAccess. “They’ve got to get to the drug store, that’s what they’re going to do,” she said. “When they’ve got to go to the grocery store, guess what they’re going to do.”

Changes to MetroAccess

  • First fare increase: The agency bumped the base fare up to $3 from $2.50 this summer.
  • Limited area: In July, it limited the rides to within three-quarters of a mile of the existing rail and bus system for all new users. Riders are charged up to $7 per trip to go beyond those boundaries.
  • Certification: Metro has toughened its certification process for those allowed to use the service. It is pushing people to ride Metrorail and Metrobus instead, giving them free or reduced-price rides. In the past six months, Metro has trained more than 3,700 people with disabilities how to use the system, Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said, and given nearly 8 million free or reduced-price rides.
  • Second fare hike: The rest of the fare hikes begin on Sunday with fares double the rate of a comparable Metrorail or bus trip, up to $7 per one-way trip

Credit to the Washington Examiner

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