Grievances Spike After MetroAccess Transition

By Lena H. Sun and Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 13, 2006

Angry and frustrated riders using MetroAccess filed more than 2,400 complaints about poor service last month, a 445 percent increase over the previous January, according to Metro statistics.

Two-thirds of the grievances came after a new company took over the service for disabled and elderly riders unable to use the subway or bus.

Despite the fact that MetroAccess riders are greatly outnumbered by riders of Metrorail and Metrobus, they generated the majority of complaints for the first three weeks of January. Most passengers complained about rides that arrived late or not at all, according to statistics. Last January, there were 451 complaints filed.

Metro officials have brushed aside suggestions that problems are widespread, and Richard A. White, Metro's outgoing chief executive, has suggested that some riders are lying. Metro managers and officials of the new contractor, MV Transportation, said bumps in the transition are to be expected.

But the number of complaints in January far exceeded number of complaints logged the same month six years ago, the last time there was a change in contractor. And MV's top executive has called it the worst transition he has experienced in 26 years in the industry.

MetroAccess staffers say they have received fewer than 100 responses from MV about how it handled the complaints.

Speaking to a disability group last week, Metro manager Pamela Wilkins, who oversees MetroAccess, acknowledged the "very difficult" transition. "We recognize there have been some disruptions in service," she said. Metro is closely monitoring operations, she said.

MV Transportation began providing the publicly funded curb-to-curb van service for 16,000 eligible people Jan. 15.

The overwhelming number of complaints comes as no surprise to many MetroAccess riders, who say they are frustrated by the poor service and lack of response. D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) said she plans to ask about MetroAccess at a Metro budget hearing this month.

On Wednesday, the Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities drew its largest attendance in years because the subject was MetroAccess, officials said. Seventy-five people showed up -- several in wheelchairs or accompanied by Seeing Eye dogs -- seeking explanations from Metro managers and two board members for rides that did not arrive, trip routes and procedures that defy common sense and replacement of experienced drivers with new ones.

"We got a lot of answers that were incomplete, incorrect, insensitive or didn't understand the questions we asked," said Harold Snider, the commission chairman.

MV and Metro officials maintain that the troubles stem from bad data -- since corrected -- and misunderstandings about requirements to carry more than one rider and provide curb-to-curb instead of door-to-door service.

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