Metro Move driver Ken Jilk lowered his bus ramp to carefully board a passenger, then rushed to the door of the ProAct center in Eagan to meet several others ready to catch a ride home after a day of classes or volunteering at Feed my Starving Children.

His was one in a row of Metro Move and Metro Mobility vehicles parked outside ProAct last week. The buses looked almost the same.

But Metropolitan Council leaders hope Metro Move, which launched this month, will be a better choice for hundreds of people with disabilities who need to regularly get to work or to community services. It aims to provide people with certain Medicaid waivers more reliable rides across a broader range of cities during extended hours.

The new service debuts as passengers and disability rights advocates continue to raise concerns with Metro Mobility's delays, lengthy ride times and inconsistent hours.

"It's a sad state of affairs for our transportation for people with disabilities and seniors," said Joan Willshire, former executive director of the Minnesota Council on Disability. "We've got to get better at this because transportation is the heartbeat of everybody."

This new option is a good addition to the transportation system, Willshire said, but more is needed.

Metro Move drivers transported roughly 100 riders a day last week, Metropolitan Council officials said. They anticipate it will serve up to 900 or 1,000 people by the end of the year.

"A thousand folks may not sound like a lot, but the impact, when you're considering many of these folks will travel four, five, six days a week, it's pretty substantial," said Sheila Holbrook-White, the Met Council's waiver transportation program manager.

She said they designed the service after hearing from riders and their family members, who said they like having a consistent driver. Jane Snyder, who coordinates transportation at ProAct, said that helps people feel less anxious.

"There's a trust and a connection. They get to know each other," Snyder said Thursday as she watched Jilk help people board his bus, including holding one man's hand and carrying his bag down the sidewalk.

Holbrook-White said people also told them: "I have opportunities to work, but I can't make the hours I work align with the service for which I'm eligible."

Metro Mobility is often the option for people who have disabilities or health conditions that prevent them from using regular transit routes. The hours someone can catch a ride with that service vary depending on what city they live in. Wide swaths of the suburbs, including much of Blaine, Lakeville, Eden Prairie and Woodbury, fall outside of Metro Mobility's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) zone. That means people living there can be placed on standby and can only catch a ride if it works with other already scheduled trips.

With Metro Move, no one is on standby.

And while Metro Mobility needs to build a "brand new system of routes" every day based on shifting ride requests, Metro Move's routes will be shaped by "repeatable and reliable" standing orders from people who need to get to the same destination every day or week, said Charles Carlson, executive director of Metropolitan Transportation Services at the Met Council.

Metro Move serves people who have certain waivers available through Minnesota's Medical Assistance program. People can use it if they have waivers for brain injuries, developmental disabilities or if they require a nursing facility level of care.

Waivers are funded through a mix of state and federal dollars. The new transportation offering will cost around $16 million this year, Carlson said, but he said since they can draw on federal waiver dollars it will save the state money.

This new option is years in the making, said David Fenley, the ADA director for the Minnesota Council on Disability. He is "extremely optimistic" about the transportation alternative he said would provide people with more independence.

Metro Mobility previously had a program that would pick up people with disabilities and take them to day programs, some of which pay subminimum wages for repetitive work, he said. Fenley, a staunch opponent of subminimum wage programs, said the new transit option is part of a shift away from the practice he described as "subsidizing the exploitation of disabled labor."

Dan Meyer, with nonprofit Rise, Inc., is also excited about the change. He helps people with disabilities get jobs in the community, from Hy-Vee to a Montessori school to Jo-Ann Fabrics. He said while most employers are fairly accommodating, people risk losing their jobs if they are late.

"Metro Move, we hope, is going to be an improvement," Meyer said.