Valley Metro recently modified their paratransit services in Phoenix for the East Valley dial-a-ride service, to follow the business model of brokering out the service. Valley Metro CEO Stephen Banta said he was initially skeptical because it was seen as a last resort to contract with a local cab company to provide that transit trip through a voucher program for one of their clients. “I always struggled in the previous authorities to ensure that the driver showed up and the operator that showed up had the customer services sensitivities needed for that type of client.”
Operations Director Jim Wright explained that they were looking at $35 a boarding with their paratransit service, relying on the typical cutaway bus dispatched out of the Mesa facility. Providing about 220,000 passenger trips, he said they were looking at about $10 million for paratransit.
Part of a paratransit study they did in 2007 listed one option to regionalize the service to be more cost-effective was the brokerage model.
In 2011 they put out a proposal for a broker for paratransit service and it was awarded to a local cab company, Total Transit. (That company also has a fixed-route contract for Valley Metro on the West side for some express service. ) Total Transit operates green Toyota Priuses for the service and they also broker some of the service to seven others, including a human service not-for-profit agency.
The brokered paratransit service was implemented last July and now the cost per boarding is about $23. “So we cut our price by about 33 percent,” stated Wright. “We did a passenger survey right around Christmas time. We hired a local firm to do the research and the random survey of about 600 of our customers and they love the vehicle, they love the drivers.” He added, “We were afraid of the typical, ‘They’re going to treat our customers poorly,’ and we’re getting just the opposite from that response in our survey.”
Valley Metro Communications Manager Susan Tierney said the drivers that wanted to opt in to the service went through training for ADA and sensitivity training. Wright said, “They have to meet certain criteria.”
Banta said with the research in it John Wright had done and with Total Transit and 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.
“Our ridership is continuing to grow on the paratransit service out in the East Valley. We’re able to get people to their destination in a more timely and more direct manner.” He added, “We’re also able to manage the overall cost of that delivery of service a little better because it’s more direct; it’s minimal road time.”
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. She also mentioned the drivers were transitioned over to light rail if they wanted to apply to be a light rail operator. Wright said some of the drivers retired and some went to work for one of the subcontractors that provides the 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.”
The cities in the East Valley subsidize taxi rides for seniors and persons with disabilities. These are not necessarily ADA-certified, Wisner explained, but because there’s limited service in those communities … they go above and beyond the ADA and provide service for those individuals.
Mobility Center Offers In-Person Assessments
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 11,000-square-foot facility two years ago.