Thursday, July 16, 2009

Solano County Grand jury report offers fixes to paratransit system

By Danny Bernardini
Posted: 07/15/2009 08:14:48 AM PDT

Paratransit riders in Solano County aren't being properly served and several changes need to be made, according to the grand jury.

After attending public hearings, Paratransit Coordinating Council meetings and interviewing department heads, the Solano County grand jury released a report Tuesday with a handful of suggestions for improving service.

Jurors are concerned about proper notice not being given for public meetings, a lack of communication with riders and that staff is not completely addressing riders' concerns.

Solano County paratransit services have been provided since 1975 and are offered to people with disabilities. There are 16 buses, each of which can carry 12 people in standard seating and four others in wheelchairs.

Before July, a rider would call and schedule an appointment to be picked up. That driver would take the rider to a destination in Vacaville or Fairfield and arrange for a later pickup.

Since the report was completed, Solano County and the cities of Dixon, Vacaville and Fairfield have altered the way paratransit service is provided. Now riders who need to travel between towns are taken to a transfer station, where they must change buses and pay a new fare. These changes are not reflected in the grand jury report.

Jury members had the opportunity to ride on one of the buses and noticed several obstacles. Among them was that it took three minutes before a dispatcher picked up the phone, and when they did, other dispatchers' voices in the background made it difficult to communicate. The jurors also noted that some scheduling issues arose.

During a December 2008 public hearing on unmet transit needs, common complaints included a need for more service and better coordination with Fairfield/Suisun Transit. Service in Benicia was requested, and people raised concerns about late and early pickups, long trips and treatments cut short because a patient had to leave to catch the bus.

Similar complaints were found in the call logs of the Fairfield and Suisun Transit system. Callers also complained about driver attitudes, poor scheduling, safety issues and communication problems.

The grand jury made five recommendations, the first being that public meetings should be noticed in local newspapers and public sites with enough time for those interested to attend.

The top priority for dispatchers should be returning phone calls and confirming rides, the jury said. Dispatchers also should work on eliminating background noise, the jury said.

It was also noticed that no first-aid kits were in the vehicles, and that drivers are no longer required to be certified in CPR training. The jury said that could lead to situations where riders are unable to get emergency medical attention in a timely manner.

No comments: