Report of the LWVMPC Transit Study + Financial Issues Sub-Committee
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination law that mandates local transit districts meet certain standards and provide specific services1 for persons who show medical verification of a qualifying disability.2 The regulations adopted pursuant to the law require that paratransit3 services be available within three-quarters of a mile on both sides of all routes served by the fixed-route public transit service.
In the Salem-Keizer Transit District paratransit service is provided by Cherry-Lift vehicles, which pick up and deliver qualified individuals on a pre-reserved curb-to-curb basis everywhere within the Urban Growth Boundary. The ADA is essentially an “unfunded mandate.” The federal government provides only minimal federal funding (about one percent of the cost of paratransit) to assist the provider with meeting the law’s requirements.
Since all Cherriots buses are wheelchair-accessible, many ADA-qualified persons can board and use regular buses. However, some persons with disabilities may be unable to board and use regular buses because of an inaccessible bus stop at their boarding point or destination. For instance, the stop may have a gravel base, may lack a sidewalk access or may be located on a steep hill or at too great a distance for the disabled person to access safely on foot or in his/her wheelchair. Some riders may be eligible for paratransit because of emotional or cognitive disabilities.
Cherriots staff provides training for people with mental or physical disabilities to help them learn to board and use the regular buses. Training can be scheduled individually or for a group. The Cherriots’ web page has a helpful link for Customer Service to arrange the training.
Challenges Resulting in Part from ADA Requirements:
Funding/Budget Issues: There is a significant cost to the Transit District for providing paratransit in compliance with the ADA. Cherry-Lift costs $4.5 million, approximately twenty percent of the total District budget, and provides 110,000-120,000 rides (about one percent of all rides). In contrast, fixed-route service on Cherriots buses costs $19-20 million and provides 4.2 million rides per year.
Cost vs. Fare Revenue: Every Cherry-Lift ride costs the District about $30 ($60 round-trip) because it is individually-arranged and provided. The passenger pays a $3 fare each way. In contrast, a single Cherriots bus ride costs the District $3.75-$4.00 ($7.50-$8.00 round-trip) while the passenger fare is $1.50 each way (60 cents for seniors) and is free if the rider is eligible for Cherry-Lift service. This cost/revenue difference is a large issue for the District.
Effect of Tax Levy Failure: Most of the District’s budget is dependent on local property taxes. When a levy failed in 2008, the District had to find a way to meet its increasing expenses with less revenue. If service were to continue on a Monday-through-Saturday basis, the District would have had to make drastic reductions in routing and frequency of regular buses because the ADA requires that paratransit service be provided on all days when the fixed-route service is available. Therefore, the District Board concluded it could only operate Cherriots and Cherry-Lift five days each week in order to meet its budget without violating the ADA. It curtailed all Saturday service, redesigned some Cherriots routes, and eliminated a few others.
Bus Stop Issues: Some bus stops are not ADA-accessible. Some streets lack sidewalks or are on hilly terrain. As a result, some ADA-eligible riders who could otherwise ride the fixed-route buses must use the more expensive Cherry-Lift service. If more of the stops and sidewalks were accessible, fewer disabled people would need Cherry-Lifts. The City of Salem, not Cherriots, is responsible for sidewalks.
Cherriots Staff Seeks to Meet Community Needs Despite Decreased Funding:
There are 31 Cherry-Lift vans in service. The service is reservation-based and cannot discriminate or prioritize trips based on the riders’ purposes; a medical trip and a trip to the hairdresser must be treated equally. For efficiency, program staff tries to schedule group trips for ADA-qualified people needing to reach similar destinations.
Educating customers is a high priority of the Transit District. Staff trainers assist disabled riders and their attendants with travel training so more of them can ride the less-costly fixed-route buses. Staff works closely with group homes to arrange group trips. Other strategies for arranging group travel are being considered in order to better use the dwindling resources.
Coordinated planning is needed when new buildings or commercial complexes are developed. Kroc Center and Salem 50+ Center were designed with Cherriots input. They both have safe, efficient access/egress routes for regular buses and paratransit vehicles.
Further Cuts May Not Be Avoided Without New Financial Resources:
Funding for Cherriots, including ADA-required paratransit, is diminishing while the demand for all transit services is growing. Baby-Boomers (those people born between 1946 and 1964) are reaching retirement age and may choose to ride buses for financial reasons as the cost of automobile use continues to increase. Some may become eligible for paratransit, due to health issues. →→→ Additional funding sources will be needed to restore the services that have already been cut and to meet growing demands for efficient and reliable service for all transit users.
Oregon Transit Association, an organization comprised of businesses, transit agencies and non-profits, plans to submit a bill to the 2013 Legislature seeking new State funding for transit, including paratransit. Various options, including lottery funds, payroll or property tax levies, or dedicated funding for disabled persons, may be considered. Congress has passed a temporary extension of the SAFETEA-LU transportation funding bill for 2012. Whether or not permanent federal funding is approved by Congress will likely depend on how much public support there is for mass transit.
- 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12143 provides in pertinent part: “It shall be considered discrimination . . . for a public entity which operates a fixed route system (other than . . . solely commuter bus service) to fail to provide with respect to the operations of its fixed route system, . . . paratransit . . . to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs . . . comparable to the level of . . . services provided to individuals without disabilities using such system.”
2. The definition of “disability”, in 42 U.S.C. Sec. 12102, is as follows in pertinent part: . . . (1)(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; . . . . [and] shall be construed in favor of broad coverage. . .”
3. As defined in the regulations, “Paratransit” means “comparable transportation service . . . for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use fixed route transportation systems.”
Transit Study Financial Issues Subcommittee:
Sandra Gangle and Janet Adkins prepared this article, based on an interview with Allan Pollock, General Manager, Salem-Keizer Transit District, and District staff.