St. Louis disability support groups file complaint against Metro service cuts
A coalition of St. Louis-area organizations that assist people with disabilities has filed a federal complaint against Metro St. Louis over a plan to cut back its Call-A-Ride services on April 10.
Leaders of Paraquad Inc., Missouri Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, St. Louis Society for the Blind and the Starkloff Disability Institute asked Metro officials earlier this month to delay the service cut to give paratransit riders enough time to find other transportation options.
Metro officials say the service change is necessary partly due to increased demand for trips and a lack of bus operators and dispatchers. They say cutting service in outlying areas not federally mandated will improve paratransit services in the remaining coverage area by reducing trip denials and phone reservation wait times.
The changes will be detrimental to riders, especially to those who rely on the service to go to work, said Robyn Wallen, transportation chair for Missouri Council of the Blind.
“It is always a struggle for a disabled person to get a job and to keep a job, and unlike the vast majority of people that can get in a car and drive to work, we're very dependent on that transportation,” said Wallen, who is legally blind.
Metro officials announced on Feb. 28 that they would cut back services to parts of St. Louis County. Officials hosted a public meeting a week later to discuss the changes and other transportation options to riders.
The coalition’s complaint to the FTA outlined problems many riders have faced over time. Riders frequently experience long reservation wait times and often are provided with reservation times outside the requested pickup or drop-off time.
Metro officials say they must carry on with the planned service change to provide better services for all Metro riders.
Advocates say Metro failed to provide accessible information cards about route changes to riders who are blind. They also say Metro officials did not inform riders about this month’s public meeting until it was too late to arrange rides to voice their concerns.
“The folks who use this service do not feel like they had a voice or notification or ability to dialogue in any kind of meaningful conversation that would possibly come up with a different solution,” said Paraquad President Aimee Wehmeier.
The coalition hopes the complaint sparks conversation among Metro officials to examine all possibilities to provide better transportation services.
About 250 people near north St. Louis County and the Chesterfield and Fenton areas will be affected by the change in routes. Metro Transit is federally obligated to serve areas that are within three quarters of a mile of an existing MetroBus or MetroLink service area and those routes that will be eliminated are outside of Metro Transit’s federal boundaries, said Charles Stewart Jr., Metro's chief operating officer.
Stewart said that the transit service has received a number of calls from riders who will be affected by the planned changes and that officials have offered other transportation options to them.
The only option some riders have is rideshare, and most rideshare drivers do not have vehicles equipped to transport people in wheelchairs, Wehmeier said.
“People with disabilities want to have a quality of life. They want to be able to go to work, have a job, not be fearful of being fired, they want to go to medical appointments on time, they want to be able to get out into the community,” she said. “And the options are so limited.”