Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dial-A-Ride Changes

I have not yet commented on the upcoming changes to RTA's Dial-A-Ride policy. I am not an RTA Dial-A-Ride patron, and so I can't provide a full explication of how such changes will affect current riders. I don't know, for example, how often RTA currently exceeds the 3/4 mile envelope of fixed-route service for their riders. I know that this 3/4 mile boundary is not RTA's policy- it is federal policy, and transit agencies across the country provide service at such a limit. I also can't comment on the vagaries of current ADA qualification policy, as I've never had to go through such a process. For these reasons, I was not going to comment on the upcoming DAR policy changes, but riders have e-mailed me with concerns about losing their transportation services, and so I write this post today in order to ease their concerns.

The following are the changes to DAR policy that will be implemented next January. (I took this text directly from the RTA brochure):
  • Enforce a strict 3⁄4 mile boundary policy: DAR vehicles will no longer, under any
    circumstances, travel to areas outside three-quarters of a mile of an RTA local fixed
    route even if we provided service to that location in the past. In addition, service
    will only be provided during the hours of complementary fixed-route operations.

  • Shorten reservation window from seven days to three days in advance: A shorter
    reservation window will reduce no-shows and boost service productivity.

  • Enforce trip-by-trip and conditional eligibility: For passengers with restricted
    eligibility under ADA status, trip requests will be subject to individual case review.

  • Raise the age for local senior DAR eligibility from 60 to 65. Qualified disabled
    seniors under 65 may still qualify for ADA priority service.

  • Create a zone-based fare system: Per federal regulations, the cost to ride on DAR
    can be no more than twice the cost of a fixed-route trip. However, in many cases,
    RTA has not been charging the full fare for DAR trips that cross multiple fixed-route
    zones. Beginning January 10, DAR customers will be subject to paying additional
    fares on trips that exceed one comparable fixed-route zone, with a maximum fare
    per trip of $9.

Here's a few things that will NOT happen, come January.
If you are disabled, you will NOT lose your DAR eligibility because of your age. If you're currently riding as a senior because you don't want to go through the DAR registration process, you will probably want to go through that process soon.
If you currently ride on the City of Riverside's Special Transportation minibus service, NOTHING about your service will change. This system will continue to transport passengers above the age of 60. Similarly, eligibility requirements for Corona, Banning and Beaumont Dial-A-Ride services are not changing. (Incidentally, Corona offers Dial-A-Ride service to all city residents. This, I did not know.)
If you take short-to-medium-length trips on Dial-A-Ride, your fares will probably NOT change. RTA's fare-zone system is intended primarily to offset the costs of providing transportation to riders that, at present, can traverse the entire service area for $3. RTA's service area is the second-largest in the nation, behind only Denver's Regional Transit District. It stretches from Grand Terrace to Temecula, with express routes from Montclair to Escondido. It only makes sense that the agency charge more for long trips.

RTA staff showed a lot of graphs at the Board meeting, when this issue was voted on. They weren't pretty graphs. In a couple of years, RTA would have had to start cannibalizing their fixed-route service to continue to provide the level of Dial-A-Ride service they currently do. These changes aren't great, but they are necessary in these budgetary times. Perhaps FY2010 or FY2011 will prove to be better for the agency, but for now, these policy changes are a matter of survival for our local transit operator.

So I hope this clears up some of the doom-and-gloom that's been going around about these changes. If you are affected, I encourage you to contact RTA's Dial-A-Ride people

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