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Metro Transit is improving, but disabled riders need more support, report suggests

Metro car moving along tracks.
File Photo
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Metropolitan Alliance for Reliable Transit released its June report card on Metro Transit.

A report from a St. Louis paratransit advocacy group says Metro Transit’s Call-A-Ride service is slowly improving but is still failing its riders in some ways.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Alliance for Reliable Transit released its second quarterly report card Wednesday on the region’s transit operator.

Metro received below-average scores for keeping promises, a D+ in customer experience and a C in meaningful engagement with people with disabilities. The group, which is convened by Paraquad, issued Metro an F for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It's trending in a better direction, but we are concerned with the slow pace of improvement now,” said Barbara Sheinbein, a member of the alliance who is legally blind. “Everybody wants things done yesterday, and we realize they're a government entity and they have certain things they have to do a certain way, but we would have liked to see some of these things go a little quicker.”

SMART is comprised of people with disabilities, advocates and family members with disabled loved ones in the region. People with disabilities, including some members of the group, spoke at the St. Louis County Council meeting Tuesday night about grievances involving trips on Call-A-Ride or attempts to reserve rides on the paratransit van. SMART members provided the council with a copy of the quarterly report.

The group decided to issue reports after hearing that many people with disabilities do not use Call-A-Ride and were not aware of its inconsistencies and unpredictable reservation system. Last year, Metro reduced routes on its Call-A-Ride services, which officials say affected about 250 disabled riders who live in outlying parts of St. Louis County.

Officials said Tuesday during the county council meeting that Metro is working on improving its system’s reliability and frequency for riders.

Trip denials are headed in the right direction, as Metro has increased its capacity, said Charles Stewart, chief operating officer for Metro Transit.

“However, as reflected in SMART’s report card, there are still opportunities for improvement, and Bi-State Development/Metro Transit is committed to that,” he said. “Essentially, our goal is zero denials and continuous improvement, but I do want to take the opportunity to thank SMART for their valuable input and the dedication of our employees who are delivering these improvements.”

Robyn Wallen, the transportation committee chair for the Missouri Council of the Blind, has been using the paratransit services regularly over the past two weeks to visit her husband in the hospital. Wallen, who is blind, said some drivers have exhibited exceptional customer service, but others could use more training to learn how to properly assist vision-impaired passengers.

Sheinbein is concerned about Metro’s trip denials and the reservation system that the transit company uses. She said it needs to be updated to a more modern system.

Metro officials say software updates will be completed next year to improve the system.

Sheinbein said many people complain to her about Metro’s phone reservation menu system because of its many options that are meant for people who can see.

“We've got a wide range of disabled folks, and some of the disabled individuals have disabilities that affect their ability to actually press the buttons on a phone, so what they need is the interactive voice recognition system,” she said.

SMART’s March report card gave Metro an incomplete in keeping promises. On this report card, the group gave Metro a D in phone improvement, an incomplete for updating software and a C- for contracting with an Americans with Disabilities Act consultant. Members say Metro could improve these scores by allowing riders to book rides online and implementing an interactive voice recognition system. The group also suggests that Metro’s ADA consultant make reports publicly available.

“We want a viable, usable system,” Wallen said.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.