Changes come to Metro Mobility

Changes are coming, now and in the future, to Metro Mobility. Two service-related changes took effect July 1. These changes affect the “no show” practices and maximum ride times.

A third change slated for later this year is a new automated phone system. A fourth change, to be implemented by spring 2015, will reduce the number of para-transit service providers from five to three. A request for proposals for provider restructuring will be issued in August, with contracts awarded in November 2014.

Metro Mobility is a regional para-transit service for people with disabilities and provides more than 1.7 million rides each year. It is overseen by the Twin Cities’ regional government, Metropolitan Council. Some of the changes are tied to a 2013 audit by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Ron Biss, chair of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee (TAAC) said the current and future changes should be seen as positive developments for Metro Mobility riders. The TAAC advises the council from the perspective of riders with disabilities the council on management policies for public transportation services in the region.

“The upcoming change in providers, the new phone service and the rule changes slated for July 1 are good steps for Metro Mobility riders,” Biss said. He said the TAAC has discussed the various changes and will monitor them closely.

The biggest change isn’t likely to be seen until spring 2015, when service providers change. Currently the two main or core provider spots are competitively bid. The three smaller contracts are sole-sourced. Scott County Transit or SmartLink serves Scott County. DARTS serves Dakota County. Anoka County Traveler serves Anoka County. The two larger providers are First Transit, which serves St. Paul and surrounding communities, Washington County and part of Minneapolis; and Transit Team, which serves Minneapolis and surrounding communities.

For a number of reasons, including efficiency, federal compliance and improved customer service, the council will reduce the number of providers from five to three and all contracts will be competitively bid. One of the key benefits for riders is that transfers between contractor zones will be eliminated.

Metropolitan Council spokesperson Bonnie Kollodge said it’s possible that current customers will be served by a new provider. The council is working to make any changes be as seamless as possible. The restructuring is considered to be an administrative change and doesn’t require council approval, according to Kollodge.

Beginning July 1, Metro Mobility will no longer automatically cancel the return ride if the rider does a “No Show” on the first trip of the day. For the past 30 years, Metro Mobility has automatically cancelled all return rides for “No Shows” unless staff heard from the rider.

Now Metro Mobility need to hear from the rider before the return ride is canceled. If the rider doesn’t contact Metro Mobility, and the rider doesn’t take the return ride after a “No Show” on the first ride, the return ride will result in a second “No Show.” Customers may be suspended from service if they accumulate four “No Shows” and if the “No Shows” total 4% or more of their rides in a month.

This change forces riders to be more vigilant about canceling rides they do not need. Riders are required to contact their Mobility provider at least one hour before the ride to cancel.

A “No Show” occurs when a rider cancels a ride less than one hour before the pickup time, is not at the pickup location when the vehicle arrives within the 30-minute pickup window or doesn’t board the bus within five minutes after the vehicle arrives within the 30-minute pickup window

The change is being made at the behest of the FTA, which ensures compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The FTA has told the council that every trip must be considered separately. In order to protect riders’ rights, Metro Mobility can only cancel rides when and if riders tell Metro Mobility that the service isn’t needed.

Biss said the change does require riders to be more mindful of cancelling unneeded rides. He also said there is a process through which riders can appeal a suspension.

The other change is the maximum ride time change, which also took effect July 1. The maximum ride time is based on trip distance. This change replaces Metro Mobility’s long standing 90-minute maximum time for all trips regardless of distance.

According to Metro Mobility staff, this change means that customers should see an improvement for more than 90% of trips. All trips less than 15 miles will have a shorter maximum on-board time than the trips had before. For longer trips the maximum allowable on-board time will increase. The maximum on board time for trips over 30 miles will be 150 minutes regardless of distance.

This change is also being made to comply with federal requirements, so that Metro Mobility is providing service that is comparable to regular-route bus service. That means paratransit travel times cannot be significantly longer than a comparable regular-route bus service.

A detailed breakdown of ride times is here.  Another future change, set for later this year, is a new automated phone system that will allow riders to access ride information 24 hours a day. The automated system will give riders the ability to review and cancel rides 24 hours a day without talking to a reservationist or dispatcher. Riders will have the option to speak with a live reservationists and dispatchers during business hours.

The phone system can remind riders about rides, if the rider scheduled the trip with a reservationist. Calls and emails can be made between 5-9 p.m. Riders can also get a call on the day of service when the bus is 10 minutes away. Automatic calls and emails will not be generated for standing order trips.

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