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Metro Transit lengthens booking window for its Call-A-Ride service after customer complaints

Metro car moving along tracks.
File Photo
St. Louis Public Radio
Metro Transit officials say after receiving feedback from disabled clients and advocates, they'll be making changes to the reservation booking window for the Call-A-Ride service.

Metro Transit is increasing the booking window for its Call-A-Ride service after customers and advocates have been asking for over a year for the agency to better serve its riders and disabled clients.

Beginning July 5, Metro Transit’s Call-A-Ride service will allow booking up to three days in advance for trips for disabled customers, the agency said. The public has requested that the transportation group provide more routes for people with disabilities after they were cut last year. Metro officials previously said the change was due to both the increased demand for trips and the lack of bus operators and dispatchers.

The agency most recently received feedback from the public at a forum in April. Chief Operations Officer Charles Stewart Jr. said a survey of ridership customers was insightful.

“We asked them if they would like to have next-day service,” Stewart said. “The response was no, basically, but they also gave us a lot of different options to think about, so we decided that this three-day option is middle ground to compromise.”

He said so far they haven’t received any negative feedback about the booking change, which he considers a positive sign.

“Our objective is to provide better service to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) community, and to the community at large, and we continue to work on that,” Stewart said. “I think this will help us with our denials going forward and help us to provide better service than we’re providing at the current time.”

More than 200 people in north St. Louis County and the Chesterfield and Fenton areas have been impacted by the decrease in routes. Metro said this was done to improve paratransit services in hopes that both trip denials and phone reservation wait times would be reduced.

Jeanette Mott Oxford, advocacy manager for the nonprofit disability group, Paraquad, said she’s relieved Metro met them in the middle on the booking change.

“We’re excited about the reservation window because they had proposed next day only and we did not like that,” Oxford said. “We, being the members of SMART (St. Louis Metropolitan Alliance for Reliable Transit) sent a note to them saying no, we do not want a one-day-only window to reserve. We actually said we’d like a one-to-five-day window and that we’d like them to eventually be able to offer same-day booking, as some cities do.

“Our voices were heard and we’re glad about that,” Oxford said. “They compromised and kind of met us in the middle by saying one to three days,” Oxford said. “We were so worried about the next-day only thing that we consider that a positive thing.”

The three-day booking change will be piloted for six months beginning in June, Metro said. The company received over 150 public comments about the changes.

But more work needs to be done, Oxford said. Customers are still having a hard time with the phone service for Call-A-Ride as phone lines are unreliable and don’t always work, she said.

Last week, Metro added about 60 phone lines — but Oxford said she’s concerned there still isn't enough staffing.

“It’s not going smoothly, but hopefully they’re working on it and things will improve,” Oxford said.

In addition to this, she said disabled customers sometimes have no choice but to cancel trips because they are only being offered one-way rides.

“We think the trip cancellations increased not because people with disabilities are somehow irresponsible, but because the number of one-way trips people were being offered was going up, so they were forced to cancel under those circumstances,” Oxford said.

“So maybe you could get to the grocery store or doctor’s office, but they couldn’t get you back home,” she added. “Let’s say you made that call on Friday and you set your ride up for next Tuesday, because on Fridays they were allowing you five-day advance bookings.

“So you have this one-way trip and you try to find a ride with your cousin Bill and get a way home and give him gas money. But then it turns out cousin Bill has a job interview that day and he ends up not being able to take you, so people call in and cancel.”

Metro said that beginning July 5, the five-day advance reservation option will no longer be available.

The organization recently hired more drivers and now has about 140 vehicle operators on staff, Stewart said.

“We’ve put extra emphasis on hiring Call-A-Ride drivers, and of course, we’re still offering the $5,000 sign-on bonus,” he said. “We’ve got about 20 operators in class right now so things are looking good. We have a goal of reaching 150 by June and I think we’re going to do that. Our next goal is to have 170 in November. So I think we’re well on our way to achieve those goals.”

More improvements will be implemented in the coming months, Stewart added.

“We’re committed to providing the best service for everyone,” he said. “The better we get with Call-A-Ride, the better services we can provide overall.”

Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.