DC Cuts Back Funding To Transport Residents with Disabilities – Thousands Affected
Advocates for More Options Meet with City Officials – Protest at City Council Meeting
by Larry Janezich
On July 22, DC cut back drastically on a subsidized ride service for the residents with disabilities, leaving thousands of residents of the city in need of transport assistance – in some cases on a moment’s notice. According to an advocate Heidi Case, one rider was forced to ask strangers to help with traditional taxi fare so that she could travel home in the mid-day heat. She had the $5 that would have covered a Transport DC ride the previous day.
Today, a group of some 25 advocates for disabled residents met with Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Brenda Donald and a host of DC agency officials to bring their concerns and stories to the attention of the city.
Heidi Case, a coordinator for the advocates, said the new restrictions “so invaded and changed the world of the disabled.” She feels that today’s meeting did not seem likely to result in any change regarding how the cut backs are going to be administered this Fiscal Year ending September 30 and she is “less optimistic now that before the meeting” that the city will change the way that budget cuts are being made to the program in FY 17. She said that officials did say they were open to talking about how the program would be administered in FY 2017. A second meeting will occur in two weeks.
The program in question is called DC Transit. The city pays three taxi companies $28 for every ride given to an ADA certified disabled person. (Until July 22, a person could go anywhere in DC, 24/7.) Of the $24, the taxi company gets $13, the driver $15, and the driver gets another $5 from the passenger. In the face of the funding shortfall, the taxi companies offered to reduce their cut by $5 to $8 for the company, with the driver still getting $20. That didn’t help sway the city, which effected changes limiting the rides to medical and work purposes only, and the hours from 5:00am – 7:00pm weekdays, and 7:00am – 7:00pm, Saturday and Sunday.
The program started in October of 2014 to take disabled persons to medical appointments – a few hundred a month – and was expanded in May of 2015 to take the disabled to any location. Last month, trips totaled more than 16,000, requiring the reduction in services.
The alternative federal ADA transportation program – Metro Access – costs passengers $3.50 – $6.50 and receives a $51 subsidy per trip, but the trip must be scheduled in advance, is a shared ride service making drop off times inconsistent.
Case says users of DC transit can live with a restriction on the number of rides per user per day under a system that allows the rides to be used for any purpose. She challenges any of the officials to “spend one week depending on Metro Access or the Transit DC under its current operating restrictions” and that the disabled are only asking for the right to make transportation choices that others take for granted.
News reports say that this fall, the city will issue a request for proposals aimed at further outsourcing transportation for the disabled, with the goal of enlisting bids from companies like Uber and Lyft to provide para transporting services where a wheelchair is not involved. Such a service could be in place by early 2017.
Still, that does nothing to address the immediate concerns faced by Heidi Case – who uses a wheelchair – and those for whom she advocates. Case says that she and her determined group of advocates took their protest to the City Council on July 26, and said “we got a lot of support” citing the concerns expressed by CM Jack Evans in particular.
CHC will continue to provide updates on this issue as they develop.