Metro Mobility administrators admit that 2015 was a busy and at times bumpy year for the Twin Cities paratransit provider, with a number of changes in how service is provided. But one change, made March 14 at a listening session in St. Paul, further irked some clients.
At the forum which drew more than 100 people to Wilder Foundation, persons with questions or concerns weren’t allowed to address the group one by one. Instead those present were asked to gather around tables and discuss concerns with facilities. They were also asked to fill out questionnaires. Comments and survey results will help improve Metro Mobility service. Metro Mobility staff members said any feedback is valued.
A similar forum will be held in June. No date or place have been announced yet. Andrew Krueger, who oversees Metro Mobility, an bility manager of customer service, told the group that the open microphone format was done away with because staff didn’t get to hear from everybody. They urged people to share their experiences in small groups and fill out surveys.
That didn’t sit well with some people at the forum. “I thought this was about us, the riders,” said Minneapolis resident Val Barnes. “I thought the flier said you wanted our feedback.” She said the forum format was designed to minimize concerns Metro Mobility riders have. “That’s the way you people always play the game. You ignore us.” Barnes left the gathering without taking part in group discussions, saying she felt as if people with disabilities were being treated like children.
Others who stayed and participated in discussions and the questionnaire process had mixed reactions. Some said they wanted to hear from the entire group present, while others said they liked talking in small groups and not having to speak in front of a large group. But another reaction was that it was all too easy for a few vocal people to dominate a small group, just as can happen at an open mic forum.
Metro Mobility is the Twin Cities regional shared public transportation service for certified riders who are unable to use regular fixed-route buses or light rail due to a disability or health condition. Riders must apply for the service. Federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines determine ridership eligibility.
On average a ride costs $26, covered by fares and state funds. Riders pay $3 per ride during off-peak hours and $4 per ride during peak hours. Metro Mobility also offers a $1 downtown fare in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Work is underway to improve use of GoTo cards, which store transit fares, and make it easier to use the cards on Metro Mobility as well as buses and trains.
The service has grown 66 percent over the past decade, with a budget of $62.23 million last year. More demand for rides means buying more vehicles for the bus fleet.
“2015 was a little bit of a challenging year for us,” said Krueger. Metro Mobility set a record in 2015 with 2.1 million riders. On December 3, 2015, a record 8,123 riders were served.
Program staff described other changes, some of which began in 2014 and continued into last year. Service areas were shifted. Metro Mobility went from five service contractors to three. One controversial change made in late 2014 was the dropping of longtime service provider DARTS in Dakota County after complaints were made about falsified records and poorly maintained buses. The loss of longtime DARTS drivers upset many clients.
Technical issues also caused problems, notably in December 2015 when Metro Mobility’s computer system went down for almost two days. Some people waited for hours for rides, when drivers couldn’t access their routes.
Another dilemma has been that of finding and retaining drivers. With unemployment down, hiring has become more difficult.
In November 2015 there were two incidents where Metro Mobility drivers were accused of sexually assaulting passengers. One incident occurred in Maple Grove and the other in St. Paul. Charges were filed in the Maple Grove incident. One women who didn’t want her name used said that those incidents made her wary, especially when she meets a new driver.
For more information or to make comment about Metro Mobility service, go here.