Disability advocates argue proposed changes to para-transit system pose safety problems

Disability advocates argue proposed changes to para-transit system pose safety problems

Madison’s transit and parking commission will talk Wednesday night about changes to the city’s para-transit system, which provides transportation for people living with special needs who can’t use traditional public transit.

Disability advocates argue the proposed changes could cause health and safety problems. The city has heard from dozens of people who use para-transit services every day. They’re concerned these changes could prevent them from getting from place to place.

The Madison Metro Agency is expected to lose nearly $4 million in federal funding, and now the city says it has to make some tough but necessary changes. The commission will talk about two proposals tonight.

The first would mean Metro wouldn’t have to make sure riders have someone waiting to escort them into their home or business when they’re dropped off.

The second eliminates “convenience tickets,” meaning some riders would have to pay cash.

Disability advocates say this doesn’t make sense. Dee Nash, with Access to Independence, said, “That’s a lot of cash to have on you and most people don’t use cash. They use tickets or they use a cash card or other kinds of things. I think it’s putting up another barrier for individuals who need to utilize para-transit.”

Nash fears these changes will only make people with special needs more likely to stay home, putting a barrier between their ability to work and live normal lives.

“No matter where you are, there’s always some type of barrier, whether you’re in the grocery store or you’re outside,” said Nash. “We want people to be safe and to participate in their communities, but if they feel like they’re not even safe going places or navigating places, they may reduce their participation and we definitely want them to participate.”

Metro will likely try to make more cuts next year now that the state is requiring Dane County to drop its current Medicaid program in favor of the state’s program. They’ll revisit two additional proposals in 2019. One would raise the cost of each ride by an additional 75 cents, and the other would eliminate door-to-door services to save money.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city officials don’t plan on taking any action. There are questions of how many people these changes would affect and when the changes would go into place.