Transit Program Could See More Training, New Call Center

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Members of a Raleigh City Council committee agreed Tuesday to make some changes to the Accessible Raleigh Transportation (ART) program as it continues its transition to a shared-rider system.

The ART program uses a combination of private taxi companies and contracted multi-rider vans to provide curb-to-curb service to sick and people with disabilities.

Last year, City Councilors approved a $1.7 million contract with MV Transportation to provide group rides to clients who are going to or coming from similar locations. About 25 percent of ART rides are provided by MV Transportation.

The rest of the rides are provided by private taxi companies, which are not under contract with the city because many can’t comply with American with Disabilities Act guidelines.

Raleigh transit staff and representatives from MV Transportation recently met with members of the Raleigh Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities to hash out some lingering issues and problems.

While MV Transportation does 40 hours of disability awareness training for new employees and quarterly training for all employees, staff recommended that MV Transportation reach out to a local agency that would supplement the already-required training.

Transit Administrator David Eatman said this connection with a local group will help build a relationship between MV drivers and the community that uses the program. In some cases, existing clients would help with training. The change was not prompted by any particular incident.

Transit and MV staff will also continue to meet with stakeholders to provide information about the program and program requirements as well as receive direct input from clients.

Members of the Budget and Economic Development agreed to move forward on the training and meetings with stakeholders. The items head next to City Council for review.

However, a proposal to centralize the program’s communications system will require more research.

Today, ART dispatchers at the city can be reached between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clients have complained about their inability to reach city staff after hours or an MV employee with questions about a scheduled trip. Clients who use taxi services contact the company directly.

A centralized phone number and dispatch office would handle all calls and scheduling for 40 ART vendors.

The call center would also be able to provide more specific pickup times for clients. Today, the shared-ride system gives clients a 30-minute window for pickup. Without a centralized system, it’s impossible to give clients an exact pickup time. But, for a centralized system to work, all vendors would have to be contracted with the city and install the proper system in all vehicles.

Transit staff would have more oversight and direct management over the vendors in the program.

Eatman said that a centralized call center would fundamentally change how the program works. It would require a 24-hour staff and additional funding to make it happen.

The program already costs about $8 million and is part of the city’s transportation budget.

But, a centralized system would allow for more accurate ride tracking and reporting and could save the program money in the long run.

Councilors decided to have transit staff conduct more research on a new system and present facts and figures in six months. The program could be a topic of discussion for next year’s budget.

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