Sunday, June 08, 2014

BUS STORY # 396 (Sun Van)

Photo by Busboy

From the ABQ RIDE website:
  • Sun Van, ABQ RIDE's paratransit service, provides accessible transportation to persons residing in or visiting the metro area whose impairment makes it impossible to ride the fixed route service.
  • All permanent riders must be ADA-certified through an interview process at the ABQ RIDE office. Applicants must fill out an application form and call for an interview.
  • ABQ RIDE Paratransit provides origin-to-destination service to and from any address in Albuquerque and most of Bernalillo County.  Door to Door service is also available upon request at time of reservation.
  • Service hours are the same as the fixed-route service.
  • The fare is $2 for each one-way trip, which can be paid for with coupons or cash. Coupons are available at ABQ RIDE. Call 243-Ride (V/TTY) for other sales locations.
  • Advance reservations are required, and reservations are accepted three days in advance when made Saturday through Thursday; On Fridays, reservations are accepted five days in advance. Rides must be cancelled two (2) hours prior to the scheduled ride.

It had already occurred to me the paratransit system just might be part of my not-so-distant future before I read ABQ RIDE’s invitation to a public meeting discussing the updating of the Sun Van rider eligibility process. I’d never attended a city public meeting before, and this looked like a good one to start with.

The room was large, the attendance small, but spirited. ABQ RIDE was there to explain why it needed to update its processes (to make sure their eligibility criteria were ADA-compliant; to make sure the criteria were inclusive), and how it was going about doing this (by hiring a consultant whose expertise is public paratransit; by looking at “best” systems in the U.S. and Canada; by reviewing ABQ RIDE data for paratransit use in the community.)

There were two reasons given for doing the review now. One was that it had been twenty years since the program had been established and many of our processes were outdated. The other -- the one it seems everyone else in the audience was waiting for -- is that the number of active riders* using Sun Van had gone up 66% over the past five years. It became apparent from the way many of the questons were posed that a large part of the audience was convinced the real purpose of the revision was to cut current and future Sun Van users to accommodate the revenue decline in the wake of the Great Recession.

My own between-the-lines reading was this: probably some riders were being given eligibility inappropriately. But I suspect the far greater concern is for citizens who meet the criteria not being given eligibility. This is lawsuit territory. Both lapses would be tied to the credentials of the evaluators. Current best practice has eligibility determined by licensed physical therapists who not only assess the person applying, but often the bus stop environment that person is using. This as opposed to ABQ RIDE’s current and long-standing practice of using staff with no background in rehabilitation. One good lawsuit settlement based on an unqualified and erroneous rejection would likely make providing more resources for the increasing number of riders look really cheap by comparison.

Still, many in the audience were convinced ABQ RIDE intended to limit the criteria to exclude both current and future riders. Bruce Rizzieri, ABQ RIDE's director, explained the criteria were ADA criteria, not ABQ RIDE criteria, and that the city could not alter the criteria even if it wanted to, which he made clear it didn’t. I’m not sure he changed anyone’s minds, but I thought you would have to be completely invested in your conspiracy theory to miss that he was making nothing but sense.

While both the consultant and Rizzieri made it clear no criteria had yet been drafted, there was plenty of input from members about what should and should not be taken into consideration.

There were also any number of questions and comments having nothing to to with Sun Van. Rizzieri ended up answering as many questions as the consultant because the content fell outside the realm of the meeting’s purpose.

This is the first time I’ve see Rizzieri, and I have to say, I was impressed. No matter how many times a question had already been asked, no matter how long and tedious the question, no matter how much commentary loaded onto the question, he stood patiently, attentively, eyes on the questioner, no body language betrayal of impatience or frustration (unless you read into the gum chewing), and waited all the way to the end of the question before answering clearly and succinctly.

I left early, after the presentation had been completed and all that was left was for everyone who still wanted to say something about anything to say it. I left with the understanding the process had only begun, that the data collected by the consulting team had to be analyzed before any proposals for specific changes could be made. The city was trying to keep us informed and involved. But I’m pretty sure a lot of my fellow attending citizens left convinced whatever was coming was already a done deal, and it wouldn’t be good.

Like old age, public service is not for sissies.


* “Active riders” are the number of riders using the services, as distinct from “ridership,” the number of rides those riders are taking. Or: I am one active rider who accounted for 52 of the total ridership numbers for last month.


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