The Austin Chronicle

Cap Metro Changes: 'Lipstick on a Pig'

By Lee Nichols, December 17, 2010, News

Activists for people with disabilities are still trying to put the brakes on already-approved plans for changes to Capital Metro's paratransit service (van and car rides for those who cannot use regular bus service). Although the board has given the thumbs-up to what the agency calls "difficult decisions," Cap Metro still must update its Americans With Disabilities Act plan with the Federal Transit Admin­i­stration. People with disabilities have been using legally required public meetings and hearings to blast the changes, most of which don't have a firm start date set.

"The presentation made today was very nice, very professional," Carlos Aleman, who is blind, told the board at its Dec. 8 meeting. "But to me, it's just like putting lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig. And the pig is that we're getting cut."

Among the new policies are an eligibility and appeals process that will require in-person interviews and assessments with Cap Metro rather than just certification by a medical professional; a strict limitation of the service for trips starting and ending within three-quarters of a mile of a regular bus service (Cap Metro used to offer rides anywhere in its service area); a wider time frame in which customers must be ready to be picked up, which people with disabilities argue makes traveling more difficult; and a reduction in hours for the call center that takes reservations. Additionally, paratransit fares are going up.

As in previous meetings, the agency was blasted for the money spent on creating commuter rail service that thus far has been lightly used, while making cuts to other services and raising fares for those services while lowering rail fares.

"You've gone up on the fares for us," said Katherine Rutledge. "And I think that is to offset the losses that are being taken by light rail. ... And yet you're coming down on the fare for the light rail. It's a boondoggle, and I don't know why Capital Metro doesn't just admit it, cut their losses, and stop it when the people are not riding."

Board Chair Mike Martinez said the board could potentially vote on the ADA document at its Jan. 26 meeting. At last week's meeting, the board approved a new fare policy, outlining the process the board must go through before changing its rates, and added new bus service for Cedar Park, pending approval by the Cedar Park City Council.

Among other stipulations, the new policy says, "To be equitable, fares should take into account the socioeconomic make up of our customers and their utilization of the different types of services" and "perform a fare equity analysis to assess effects of proposed fare change on riders and describe actions to avoid, minimize or mitigate such effects," while also "consider[ing] the financial impact setting or restructuring fares has on the long term sustainability of Capital Metro."

The new Cedar Park line, Route 214 – if approved by the Cedar Park City Council on Dec. 16 – will mark Cap Metro's first return to that city since it withdrew from Capital Metro in 1998. It will be a "flex" route, meaning it can sometimes deviate from its set route to accommodate passengers. Because Cedar Park cannot legally increase its sales tax rate to join Cap Metro's taxing district, the service will be funded through an interlocal agreement that would pay Cap Metro $116,858. The agreement would run from Jan. 18, 2011, to Jan. 14, 2012.

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