March was a month of outspoken concern over the future of the Metro Mobility System. A huge capitol rally and two well attended public hearings brought hundreds of disabled citizens forward to voice their fears over cuts in service and fare increases. These were not academic fears over possible future tax increases or redistricting political boundaries. These were basic fears of real restrictions in the daily lives of the people affected. These were people who saw their ability to work or go about their daily activities being curtailed by lack of transportation.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion over the proposed budgeting for Metro Mobility is irrelevant to the real issue facing the legislature as it allocates funds for the next two years. The Regional Transit Board (RTB) offered up a fare increase and some cuts in service apparently as a gesture signifying their desire to cooperate with threatened budget shortfalls. A counter proposal was put forward by the United Handicapped Foundation still accepting the idea of fare increases. Various budget figures are being considered, building in the fare increases to the riders and still cutting services.
The fact is that Metro Mobility is the only means of transportation available to a large (and growing) group of disabled people. It has been providing more disabled people more rides each year of its existence. It is enabling people to go to work and school who never before had such an opportunity. At least a partial expansion of normal social activity has become available to many who previously had to rely on the charity of others to make a simple shopping trip. In terms of meeting its goals it is probably the most successful program in our much criticized public transportation system.
Bringing the funding argument down to the level of arguing about whether people with incomes of less than $5000 per year should be charged fifty cents or one dollar more per ride insults the premise of the program. Fare increases to the mainline bus riders of ten cents are hotly debated. Metro Mobility was never meant to be funded by the riders, nor was it extended to them as a sort
of luxury made possible by a patronizing state legislature. The program is meant to fill a void in the transportation system which left a lot of our citizens in total dependency. It works in its present form and it should continue to be made better. It cannot be made better by burdening those eligible to ride. The general public must support adequate funding and our legislators must recognize this as the proper approach to the issue.
The March 11th Capitol rally for Metro Mobility was sponsored by The United Handicapped Federation (UHF). The rotunda of the Capitol building was packed with wheelchairs during the event. Speakers faced a sea of “WE WILL RIDE” signs and banners. Most of the participants said they believed the Metro Mobility program was going to be cut by the current legislature, although the legislators present spoke in support of a new budget totaling thirty-one million dollars, or “full-funding” as outlined by the UHF.
The RTB Public Hearings:
The Regional Transit Board (RTB) held two public hearings (3/18/91 and 3/25/91) to hear public testimony on the proposed fare increase to go into effect July 1st 1991.
Included in the RTB rate increase proposal is a change of service for the remainder of the fiscal year of 1991 ending 7/1/91. The proposed changes would be:
1) Reduction of service hours to exactly match those of regular bus service. According to preliminary review comparing MTC regular route service to Metro Mobility service, Area II (second ring of suburbs) would be the service area most affected. Proposed hours of operation for this area would be Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
2) Certification requirements and procedures that currently exist will be examined based on federal ADA regulations. They will examine the certification process to determine if disparities exist in the interpretation of eligibility to certify riders for the Metro Mobility program.
3) Reduction in current “trip assurance” plan. The program was created by the RTB to virtually ensure that all requested rides would be provided. Although ride orders are now guaranteed to be filled, Metro Mobility providers are having a difficult time meeting the demand for peak-hour service. An analysis of the program is ongoing and modifications are expected by July 1. One proposed modification would be to ensure that only wheelchair trips are guaranteed if the taxi scrip program is implemented.
4) Possible use of a taxi scrip program as a service option. To reduce reliance on the trip assurance program eligible riders would purchase subsidized coupons or “scrip” to help pay for their rides. The proposed taxi scrip would provide an option for riders who cannot use regular route bus service for their transportation needs, but do not need specially equipped vans. The scrip program is a method of “users-side” subsidy where thecost to provide the service is shared 50 percent each by the program and the passenger. The rider pays the face value for the fare with scrip. The RTB is recommending a one-year pilot program to test how taxi scrip could work in the Twin Cities. Under the proposed scrip program, a Metro Mobility user would call their provider for a “demand ride” for the next day. If the provider cannot give the ride, the user can call another provider looking for a ride. If no “demand ride” can be found the user may opt to call for a normal taxi ride, paying the regular rate with scrip dollars. This would be an increase in cost to those using the option.
The RTB expects the implementation of all these service changes would save approximately $2 million.
The United Handicapped Federation has its own proposal for a fare increase. Please see the UHF’s position paper, page 5.
A large number of people attended the hearings. The majority of people testifying were opposed to the rate increase, feeling the cost to the consumer will be a severe hardship to many individuals.
“I live in Brooklyn Park and work in downtown Minneapolis. The proposed rate increase would could cost me my job. I can not afford $10.00 per day for transportation. This could cost the State of Minnesota a paying tax payer.”
“I live in a nursing home and use the Metro Mobility program quite often. I am only able to keep $51.00 per month of my Social Security for personal needs, which includes money for transportation. I like to take classes, go to movies and socialize with friends and need Metro Mobility for those rides. I fear that if the cost of using Metro Mobility goes up I will not be able to do many activities I am currently enjoying.”
“I live in Edina in a accessible apartment. I volunteer as a receptionist in downtown St. Paul. I am hoping this position will turn into a paying job someday. If the rate increase the RTB is proposing goes into effect I will not be able afford the transportation each day ($10.00) and will have to quit. Please don’t raise the fare.
According to the RTB the Metro Mobility program is the largest component of accessible transit services in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. In fact, it is the largest program of its kind in the United States. Since its restructuring by the RTB in 1986, the Metro Mobility program has experienced tremendous growth in size of its service, the number of certified riders and total monthly ridership. In 1980, Metro Mobility service was available in a 280-square mile area, which generally included Minneapolis, St. Paul and the first-ring suburbs. With a budget of $3,696,000 and provided 372,152 rides. Today, the Metro Mobility program operates throughout the entire metropolitan area transit taxing district, covering 960 square miles and serving 92 communities. The demand for Metro Mobility service continues to grow. In 1990 Metro Mobility provided 1.6 million rides with a budget of $10,751,000 (but an actual expenditure of $13,000,000 in 1990). Temporary coverage of the shortfall came from outside sources.
The RTB’s budget request to the State Legislature for the Metro Mobility system 1992-93 biennium is $27,086,000, and anticipates using the revenues from the proposed fare increases to fully fund the operation.