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The Drive: Lights get greener for door-to-door riders

  • Article by: Tim Harlow
  • Star Tribune
  • July 6, 2014 - 9:09 PM

As a number of state laws went into effect last Tuesday, so did a number of changes that affect Metro Mobility riders.

The two big ones include the redefinition of its “no-show” policy and adjustments to trip times to more closely match a comparable trip taken by able-bodied people on fixed-route service. It’s all in the name of equality, reliability and efficiency, said senior manager Andrew Krueger.

The paratransit service that provides door-to-door rides for those who are unable to use traditional buses or trains has 38,000 eligible riders in the seven-county metropolitan area. Metro Mobility expects to provide more than 1.9 million rides in 2014. That’s up from the 1.82 million rides of 2012.

It used to be that if a customer booked a round-trip from Point A to Point B but didn’t take the first leg, Metro Mobility would automatically cancel the return trip unless the customer called in to say he or she still needed the ride home. The federal government said each segment has to be considered a separate trip and Metro Mobility can’t automatically cancel a return trip. Without a call from the rider, the bus has to go to the pickup point presuming the rider will be there for the return.

But here is the big switch. Every time a rider does not call to cancel a scheduled trip — whether it’s the originating or returning trip — and the bus comes to find no rider, the rider will be charged with a no-show. Collect four no-shows in a month and the rider can be suspended from the service. If no-shows total 4 percent or more of a customer’s total rides in a month, a rider can get kicked out, too.

“We have so many people who want and need to use the service that it’s not fair to invest in a ride that goes unused,” Krueger said.

Customers needing to schedule or cancel trips have to call the Metro Mobility Service Center between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, including in Dakota, Scott, Anoka and Carver counties, which expanded their in-person hours last week. Sometimes customers cancel their trip too close to their pickup time. That too counts as a no-show.

Onboard time adjusted

But things ought to get easier later this year when Metro Mobility rolls out an automated phone system that will allow customers to manage their rides 24 hours a day. Riders can request reminder phone calls and e-mails when scheduling with the Metro Mobility Service Center. The automated phone system will alert customers when their bus is 10 minutes away.

Metro Mobility also has changed time on board. The old policy simply stated trips would be a maximum of 90 minutes regardless of distance, meaning a trip of four miles or 40 miles could take the same amount of time. New guidelines will take distance into account. To calculate the maximum ride time, take the trip distance, multiply by four and add 30 minutes. A 5-mile trip now has a maximum onboard time of 50 minutes. Krueger said that trip times should drop on 90 percent of rides.

“These are service adjustments that will help to improve service overall and better meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act that governs the Metro Mobility service,” Krueger said.

Even more changes are coming. Metro Mobility will implement an electronic-fare system similar to the “Go To” system used on regular-route Metro Transit buses.

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