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August 3, 2015

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RTC expected to reduce services for disabled paratransit riders

Jacob Snow

Jacob Snow

The Regional Transportation Commission’s board is expected to reduce the area covered by paratransit service at the monthly meeting Thursday.

Like other government entities, the RTC is struggling financially. Falling revenue from taxes is mostly to blame, but the RTC’s paratransit service has also been hit with an increase in expenses because of state budget cuts.

Until recently, Medicaid paid for patients to get transportation to medical appointments. But that transportation funding was cut by the state, sending many patients to paratransit, which costs the RTC about $41 a trip to operate.

The RTC is providing about 20 percent more paratransit trips per month now than it was a year ago, Snow said.

Federal law requires the RTC to provide paratransit service to areas within 3/4 of a mile from any fixed-route bus line. Since 2002, the RTC has done better, offering paratransit service to areas within 1.5 miles of a bus line.

But with the revenue shortfall, the RTC has proposed reducing that service back to the minimum required by the federal government.

“With the financial challenges that we are facing, it’s not a question of do we want to provide paratransit service outside and above and beyond the minimum; absolutely, we do,” General Manager Jacob Snow said at a recent meeting of the Transportation Access Advisory Committee.

“We feel very good that we have been able to provide transportation to so many people that need it. It’s just a matter of dollars and cents,” Snow said.

The new service area still covers most of the populated parts of the valley, but some residents in the northwest, southwest and far southern parts of the valley will be impacted.

The RTC has promised that the 871 current paratransit customers who live outside the new boundaries will be grandfathered in and will still be able to get rides. However, not all customers will be able to be dropped off at locations outside the service area, unless it is for a current customer returning home.

New customers who live outside the service area can still sign up for the service, but they will have to find a way to get inside the service area to wait for a bus to pick them up.

The advisory committee was split in its support of the change, voting 5-4 to approve it. The proposal now goes to the main RTC board for approval Thursday.

The current budget proposal doesn’t call for an increase in paratransit fares, which are $2.75 per ride, even though federal rules would allow the RTC to raise them as high as $4.

But Snow said if the budget problems continue, the RTC may consider raising fares.

“We are aware of all the seniors in the community and those that, quite frankly, a paratransit fare increase would be a significant burden on them, so we prefer not to go in that direction. But we may be forced to,” he said.

Still, some passengers are upset that the RTC is also considering eliminating the $80 monthly pass for unlimited paratransit rides, although that change has yet to be officially proposed.

They say the change is the same as a fare increase because they take paratransit multiple times a week to visit the doctor and go to other appointments.

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