Rough Ride

Passengers say it has become more difficult to use CDTA’s paratransit service

When Michelle Braman went for a medical exam last November to be recertified for paratransit bus service, she was shocked at the treatment she received from the doctors hired by the Capital District Transportation Authority.

“The way the doctor treated me was horrible,” said Braman, who is blind and suffers from a hip injury. “He as much implied that I could really see, or that I had some vision, and he even had the audacity to ask me if my guide dog was really my dog.” Braman said that she was also told that she would have to take a psychological evaluation, which she viewed as harassment.

“There is absolutely no requirement that one has to have a psych evaluation,” she said. “I know that I’m likely viewed as a troublemaker because I don’t put up with their stuff, and I’m an advocate as well.” Braman refused to be evaluated.

Braman’s experience is one of many complaints received recently by the Capital District Coalition for Accessible Transportation (CDCAT), an advocacy group that provides transportation information for people with disabilities and also aids people with appeals for STAR—Special Transit Available by Request—service. Donna Suhor, the director of CDCAT, said that they receive many complaints about the STAR service, particularly involving what they say is an overly intensive certification process and problems with on-time, reliable service.

STAR is a paratransit service offered by CDTA for those who are unable to use or have difficulty using regular bus routes due to disability. STAR operates within three-fourths of a mile of, and during the regular operating hours of, regular bus routes, and riders must first be certified. The service costs $2.50 a ride. Similar services are required of all public-transportation systems across the country in compliance with the American Disabilities Act.

However, critics of the service allege that CDTA seems to discourage ridership for the program, and provides inadequate service for those that do ride.

“They seem to be concerned to the point where they must be by law,” said Ed Rich, vice chairman of CDCAT. “I don’t think there’s any human concern, really.”

The problem, according to Braman, is a change CDTA made to its certification process about a year ago. The CDTA now pays an independent medical evaluation company $100,000 annually to conduct the assessments of riders.

“They’re shelling out a ton of money to this so-called independent medical evaluating group of doctors,” Braman said. “They’re working for STAR, they’re being paid by CDTA, and their job—because they’re being paid by CDTA—is to keep people from getting benefits, from getting the STAR service. That’s really the intent behind it,” she asserted.

Rich, who is legally blind, also had a negative experience when he went through the certification process.

“I went through one of those assessments recently and I wasn’t very impressed with the confidence of the contractor going through the process,” he said. Rich was initially denied service when he first applied in the late ’90s, and went through two appeals before successfully receiving service. Rich said that another big issue with STAR is the supplemental use of taxi service for riders.

“As far as the actual service goes, the CDTA had to subcontract to Capitaland Taxi service for supplemental resources,” Rich said, “because they really don’t have the proper personnel or equipment to do it themselves completely.” This is called a “cash-call cab service” as opposed to dedicated STAR buses.

Braman refuses to use taxi service because in the past she has had issues with drivers being rude toward her service dog, as well as having enough space to accommodate her hip injury. Because of this, Braman had issues receiving door-to-door service when visiting Honest Weight Food Co-op on Central Avenue. STAR instead wanted the pick-up location to be at the Family Dollar. She eventually received the door-to-door service.

“If I could use public transportation I would, because to have to go through this is—I think it’s just totally wrong,” she said.

Suhor is trying to set up a meeting with CDTA to discuss the complaints CDCAT has received about the certification process.

CDTA did not return a call for comment in time for publication.

Link to original article