This enterprise story was recently published on a local Phoenix-area news website.
Going to work, getting an education, visiting friends and relatives and other activities could be severely cut for disabled valley residents when July transit services reductions go into effect.
Transit officials said the service cuts are necessary due to declining city sales tax revenue and a loss of state funding.
“The state Legislature repealed the Local Transportation Assistance Funds in March,” said Bryan Jungwirth, chief of staff with the Regional Public Transportation Authority. “We’ve become one of five states that no longer provide funding for public transportation at the state level. The others are Alabama, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii.”
Susan Tierney, RPTA’s public information officer, said the loss of the $22 million from the state funds, which came from lottery proceeds, hits some Valley communities particularly hard.
“The state took away a funding source we had for 30 years,” Tierney said. “So, what happens is that anyone who was using these funds for operations is impacted immediately. The city of Chandler doesn’t have a dedicated funding source, so they were relying on this money to support transit.”
“We’re concerned that cities like Chandler and rural communities like Yuma may be forced to completely shut down their transit services due to the loss of these funds,” Tierney said.
Tierney said the service cuts include fewer bus and light rail trips each day, reduced service hours for the entire transit system, the elimination of some bus routes and significant restrictions on the availability of Dial-A-Ride, a paratransit system that transports people with disabilities and senior citizens who are not able to ride the bus.
She said Dial-A-Ride served nearly 11,500 Maricopa County residents with disabilities in 2009.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that we provide door-to-door transportation to people who are unable to ride the bus whenever they live within three quarters of a mile of an existing route,” Tierney said. “We must respond to funding cuts by readjusting Dial-A-Ride as our other services are reduced.”
According to a 2009 transit performance report, providing Dial-A-Ride service comes at a steep price. Each trip taken on Dial-A-Ride costs $36.44 as compared to $4.49 for a ride on the bus.
David Carey, advocacy specialist with Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, said Phoenix will implement cuts and restrictions to Dial-A-Ride on July 26.
“We’re losing two hours of service from 10 p.m. to midnight,” Carey said. “Senior citizens without disabilities are no longer able to use Dial-A-Ride and we’re also no longer allowed to choose to go somewhere whenever we want because we must now make reservations at least 24 hours in advance.”
Carey said using Dial-A-Ride is challenging enough without these new cuts.
“Suppose you have a doctor’s appointment, but they’re behind schedule and you’re not seen for a couple of hours,” Carey said. “You allowed two and a half hours for this appointment, but your ride arrives before you are finished. Now, either you have to leave before your business is done or you’re just stuck without a ride home. You can’t just call Dial-A-Ride and ask them to pick you up later.”
Donna Powers, senior program coordinator with the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council, said the reductions in bus and light rail service will greatly extend her daily work commute and aggravate a spinal cord injury that makes it dangerous for her to travel long distances outdoors.
“Part of the spinal cord injury is the inability to control internal body temperature,” she said. “When it’s over 100 degrees, it becomes a life-threatening event to have to travel a far distance.”
She said three seemingly minor changes will turn her 50-minute commute from Tempe to her office near 50th and Washington streets in Phoenix into a trip lasting at least an hour and a half.
“They’re proposing changing the frequency of the No. 81 from 15 minutes to 20 minutes, but it’s not exactly the most timely route so it’ll probably be more like 30 minutes,” Powers said. “This is going to delay my transfer to the light rail, which is also reducing in frequency from 10 to 12 minutes. If I’m really lucky and I make every connection, I have an 8-minute wait to catch my last bus. That’s going to blow everything out of the water because they’re proposing that the frequency of the No. 1 change from 30 minutes to 45 minutes.”
She said the presence of the light-rail route alongside the No. 1 doesn’t help because the stops are too far apart.
She said she wouldn’t trust Dial-A-Ride as an alternative to make it to work on time.
“In this case it’s not consistent,” Powers said. “I may get to work on time one day, be 25 minutes late the next day and get there 30 minutes early the next.”
Tierney said a good public transit system is a key part of any vital metropolitan area.
“Only about 25 percent of the funding for transit, on average, comes out of the fare box,” she said. “The rest of it is subsidized by local sales taxes and state funding just like other critical services such as the fire and police departments. You may never use it, but many in the community need it in order to get to jobs, school and medical appointments.”