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City of Mesa considering changes to paratransit program

Posted at 3:57 PM, Jan 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-29 21:45:25-05

MESA, AZ — The City of Mesa is considering major changes to a transportation program aimed at giving those with disabilities independence. It's called their paratransit program and it could be replaced as soon as July 1.

"It's my life, it makes me independent," said Sami McGinnis. McGinnis hasn't driven a car in twenty years. Degenerative eye disease took her sight , but not her spirit.

"I take paratransit to the doctor's office, the dentist's office, the bank, the grocery store, I use it for everything," said McGinnis.

Determined to live a normal life, the Mesa resident uses the city's paratransit services to get her where she needs to go. The door-to-door service is in place to provide those with disabilities access to affordable transportation when they live further than three quarters of a mile away from a bus stop or light rail station. The service is required to be provided by each city under federal ADA laws.

"Their charge for a trip is four dollars each way so that's doable with the disability," said McGinnis.

The service allows unlimited rides each month, but a new proposal looks to rein in the long-term cost of the service.

"People are living longer, the definition of a disability is getting broader, and that all adds strain to the system," said transit services director Jodi Sorrel.

While riders only pay four dollars, the city picks up the rest of the cost, which averages about $46 each way.

"We carry about 114,000 to 115,000 trips a year, at $46 a trip, that adds up quite a bit," said Sorrell.

She says about 850 people use the service, the majority of which would not have any problem swapping paratransit for the city's ride choice program.

"In ride choice, you can take an eight mile trip in a cab or Lyft vehicle or wheel chair accessible vehicle for three dollars to the passenger, it's about twenty dollars to the city," said Sorrell.

She says the average paratransit rider travels about eight miles per trip making the new option cheaper. It also does not require reservations be made 24 hours ahead of time, giving users more spontaneous access. Ride Choice also allows users to avoid sharing the ride itself unlike paratransit where passengers basically car pool. However, any trip over eight miles under Ride Choice would cost two dollars per additional mile. For some like McGinnis, who travels thirty miles to the Arizona Center for the Blind for services, the cost would skyrocket.

"So that's $47 one trip, and that's not round trip that's one way," said McGinnis who hopes the city will reconsider.

Sorrell says paratransit isn't going away, but the city is aligning itself with the minimum requirements under federal law in providing the service in order to make transportation service more viable over the long haul.

The city is still looking to hear from users as they pursue this decision. If you would like a side by side comparison of the two services as well as more details on this proposal, visit their website.