MetroAccess Still Broken, Disabled Say

By Lyndsey Layton and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Scores of disabled MetroAccess riders say they continue to struggle with poor service, casting doubt on claims by Metro that things are getting better.

Metro officials said yesterday that phone lines are fixed, fewer riders are being stranded and trouble is easing. MV Transportation, which began providing MetroAccess service this month under a four-year, $210 million contract with Metro, said most rides were on time Monday.

MV executives blamed faulty data from the previous contractor, LogistiCare Inc., for some of the mishaps that have befallen frail and sick riders across the region. But several riders trace their trouble to MV's faulty scheduling software, weak communication and poor record-keeping.

They tell tales of bureaucratic bungling, in which confirmed reservations for rides suddenly disappeared from the database. Others talk about trip patterns that defy common sense, when they ride for hours because the drivers must collect others in far-flung locations and cannot stop to let them off even if they are going past their destinations.

"It's getting worse. There are no signs of getting better," said Veronica Payne, 60, a College Park resident who has hip and spinal problems and uses a cane.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has requested a meeting with MV and MetroAccess. "Everybody dropped the ball," Van Hollen said, adding that LogistiCare, MV and WMATA share responsibility.

MV Transportation executives said part of the difficulty stems from the difference between what the company is required to provide and what riders expect.

Under LogistiCare, drivers would call passengers to let them know they were en route and enter buildings to assist customers to the vehicle, even though they weren't required to do so. But MV has instructed drivers not to leave their vehicles. They also have told drivers not to call passengers, according to MV's chief executive, Jon Monson.

Metro's new contract requires vehicles to carry more than one rider, which lengthens travel times. Although he acknowledged that "errors are occurring," Monson said his company is being unfairly tarred. "Somehow, we're being the bad guys," he said.

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency crafted the contract to "provide more cost-effective service for us."

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, all transit systems must provide equivalent service for people who are physically unable to ride a regular subway or bus system. About 16,000 people across the Washington region are registered to use MetroAccess.

Metro replaced LogistiCare with MV after The Washington Post reported that MetroAccess service was poorly managed and that Metro handed out performance bonuses to LogistiCare based on questionable data.

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