Banta said with the research in it that Wright had done and with Total Transit with Ron Barnes, he had the added measures to ensure that the taxi operators were going to be put through the proper training program. He said, “It’s worked very, very well.
Communications Manager Susan Tierney said it was difficult with that whole element of change in that a lot of dial-a-ride drivers had developed a relationship with the clients and they had been driving a long time. While some of the drivers were transitioned over to light rail if they wanted to apply to be a light rail operator, some retired and others went to work for a subcontractor that provides the brokered service.
During the transition process, Wright explained they met regularly for months during the startup and the marketing folks had a huge communications plan. “We had to, because it was such a cultural change.”
With Valley Metro’s new mobility center, they are now able to personally engage with the clients, allow them travel training opportunities and speak with them about opportunities to use fixed-route service which can provide more flexibility in their daily lives. In some cases, clients are certified on a trip-by-trip basis.
The customer service department needed to be moved as there wasn’t room in the new offices downtown and at the same time they were looking to build an assessment center. Valley Metro Customer Service Manager Scott Wisner said they happened to find a location, got a really great deal on the tenant improvement allowance and were then able to build out an ideal 11-square-foot facility two years ago.
The certification process used to be done through a paper process relying on clients to fill out forms and doctors to return forms within the 21-day window. Oftentimes they wouldn’t get forms back and would have to give presumptive eligibility.
The previous mindset, Wisner explained, was they didn’t want to make someone 100 percent eligible if they weren’t 100 percent sure, so they would give conditional eligibility. However, they weren’t enforcing it, so customers often got all the trips they wanted. With the new in-person eligibility assessment in place they’re seeing more customers fully eligible because they have the opportunity to see the person.
Today customers call the call center to inquire; they learn the process and get sent an application. After filling it out, they call for an appointment and that call goes to the contractor, C.A.R.E. Evaluators, which operates the in-person assessment out of the mobility center. After the assessment, C.A.R.E. Evaluators sends a report and a recommendation and Valley Metro staff makes the final quality assurance check and sends out the letter to the customer. “We’ve got it down now that the process is really quite efficient,” Wisner said.
For more information on the in-person evaluation process, the mobility center facility and the travel training program , visit www.MassTransitmag.com/10964269.
Of the partnerships with their other contracted services, Banta said it’s very different from some of his previous experience because instead of a direct relationship with the unions, they have a Veolia or a First Transit operating some of their service and they’re the ones that negotiate the labor agreements. Ultimately, he said, they’re partners with all of them — the labor force and the contract operator — to ensure they get the best opportunity for the rider.
Banta said, “Not being at the table presents some challenges because as a previous chief labor negotiator for labor contracts, I’d rather be at the table than hearing about what happened in another room and asking for support or other advice.” He added with a smile, “I’m learning to be patient.”
The contractors they work with aren’t the only partners talked about. The U.S. Airways Center is right downtown in Phoenix near a light rail station and the venue is home to the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury, Arizona Rattlers and a variety of other concerts and events. Senior Vice President General Manager Ralph Marchetta and Director of Ticket Operations Daren Mitch talked about the arrangement between the center and Valley Metro. Mitch said, “Anyone who has a ticket to an arena event can utilize the light rail system for free with their ticket.”