Jan. 14--A controversial plan to charge tiered fares for transit services for the disabled will be among the options on the table for interagency discussions starting today.
Officials from Henrico County, Richmond and the GRTC Transit System will be meeting about the future of GRTC's CARE service, which provides curb-to-curb paratransit services for the disabled.
It's a service many people say they rely on, but it's also a growing expense.
Some of the service is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act -- trips from within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed-route bus stop during the hours that the buses run -- but others are taken on at additional expense. For example, only a fraction of Henrico County has bus service, but the paratransit service covers the entire county.
Fares for the service recently increased 50 cents, to $3 one-way. But an even more contentious proposal, to create a tiered fare system that would distinguish between the federally mandated service and the rest of the service, was put forward but not adopted.
The meetings will be a chance for officials to brainstorm strategies for reining in the spiraling costs of the program.
"Everything is on the table to consider, in terms of possible solutions, because I think everybody acknowledges there's no one single thing that's going to solve the problem," said Todd Eure, director of Henrico County's transportation development division.
Henrico paid GRTC about $1.1 million in fiscal year 2007 for the paratransit service. It paid roughly $3 million in fiscal year 2013.
In 2010, the contractor that provides the service charged the GRTC $17.22 per ride, said Garland Williams, GRTC's director of special projects. This year, it's $28.52. The $3 fare offsets only a small part of the cost.
Additional fare increases for the future are likely to be up for discussion at the meetings, as is the idea of a tiered fare structure, Eure said.
But Williams emphasized that the move isn't a foregone conclusion.
"There're no preconceived notions about whether we're going to set up a tiered structure or not," he said.
That said, the core services are required by the federal government, so the officials will have the most flexibility with the extra services.
Brian Montgomery, who suffers from cerebral palsy and relies on CARE for most of his transportation, said fare increases or service reductions would make it hard for the disabled to take care of their daily needs.
"Us on a fixed income and budget can't afford to double the fares from non-ADA-mandated services," he said.
Copyright 2014 - Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.