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Service for Disabled Is Troubled

Marquette Henderson said his frequently late MetroAccess ride forced him to leave his job last year. He sometimes chose to walk home from work along the highway rather than wait.
Marquette Henderson said his frequently late MetroAccess ride forced him to leave his job last year. He sometimes chose to walk home from work along the highway rather than wait. (By Michael Robinson-Chavez - The Washington Post)

Because the program is required by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, "we have extremely limited control over the MetroAccess portion of our budget," White testified before Congress in February.

Metro could reduce costs if it charged the maximum fares allowed by the federal government or restricted service to the minimum area described by law, which extends three-quarters of a mile beyond any Metro bus stop or rail station. White said the agency's board rejected those measures out of concern for "the vulnerable people who depend on these services."

In June 2003, the Metro manager who oversaw MetroAccess wrote a memo titled "Potential Cost Saving Measures . . . some may be very unpopular," which included such measures as charging a premium for passengers traveling beyond the basic service area. But it took until last month -- nearly two years later -- before Metro began charging that premium, which is expected to save the agency $400,000 annually.

White said he didn't realize that the premium wasn't being collected until The Washington Post brought it to his attention. "It should have been done; it wasn't done. It was an embarrassment," he said.

Since 2000, Metro has paid LogistiCare nearly $2.7 million in bonuses, mostly for meeting a goal in the contract of completing 92 percent of trips on time. But because of the way Metro worded that contract, LogistiCare didn't have to count against its performance when drivers didn't show up. In the first six months of last year, drivers stood up passengers 5,500 times, roughly 1 percent of trips, according to a letter LogistiCare sent Metro in the fall.

Another loophole meant that customer calls to a special hotline about late rides were counted as queries rather than complaints. That was important because until recently, Metro's contract allowed it to fine LogistiCare if monthly customer complaints exceeded certain levels.

Sometimes, lodging complaints was virtually impossible. For at least four weekdays in May, for example, the official complaint line run by Metro didn't pick up and wouldn't accept messages.

When Metro negotiated a new, one-year contract with LogistiCare in March, White inserted tougher standards. Now, when a MetroAccess vehicle misses a pickup, it is counted against LogistiCare's performance.

Allegations of Fraud

LogistiCare began alerting Metro to potential fraud as early as 2002, according to company e-mails.

One disabled woman was putting a favorite driver through college by ordering trips she never took, LogistiCare told Metro. The company also flagged one of its former employees who used a special code to order cabs for her boyfriend, with the bill going to MetroAccess. In another case, LogistiCare caught a driver claiming to make trips for a woman who was hospitalized.

"We need to make sure that transit police get involved," a LogistiCare manager wrote to a subordinate in 2003.

No one was prosecuted in any of those cases.


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