Paratransit operator upbraided

The company that runs the valley’s paratransit system was reprimanded for a shoddy maintenance program that has recently seen more than 25 percent of its fleet out of service.

First Transit, which runs the paratransit system, was admonished after officials with the Regional Transportation Commission noted complaints by riders.

Normally, 15 percent of the fleet — about 40 vehicles — are out of service to fix problems or for routine maintenance. Recently, the number of vehicles out of service totaled 70 in a fleet of about 270.

“It was almost double what it should be,” said Tracy Bower, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Commission.

As a result, a number of paratransit riders weren’t getting the service they wanted, she said.

Paratransit riders pay up to a $60 flat monthly fee for the service, which is meant to pick up and drop off disabled and elderly passengers from a location at a time of their choosing.

“They (First Transit) weren’t getting the work done in a timely fashion,” said Jacob Snow, general manager of the Transportation Commission. “We contract out our services, and if the service contractors aren’t going to meet their obligations they are not going to keep their contract.”

The contract with First Transit has cancellation provisions including canceling for cause if the company doesn’t meet service, reliability and on-time performance standards, Snow said.

He said First Transit wasn’t in immediate danger of losing its contract, however.

“They have stepped up to the plate, and they are doing it (fixing the vehicles) with their own revenues and resources, to their credit,” Snow said. “We feel they have made a very commendable effort.”

Bower said First Transit brought in six additional mechanics to get more of the buses out on the road.

Marsha Herbert, a paratransit rider and outspoken critic of First Transit, has long called for a review of the company’s maintenance programs.

During the March 13 meeting of the Transportation Commission, Herbert said buses often break down and passengers must wait hours for a new bus.

In a recent e-mail to the Review-Journal, Herbert said paratransit buses often travel without air conditioning and passengers are often made to wait hours to be picked up by the service.

Bower said paratransit buses are not allowed to travel without air conditioning and that there would be consequences if such a scenario was discovered.

But Bower acknowledged buses do break down and so do air conditioning systems, especially in the sweltering summer heat.

Things go wrong in all vehicles, she said.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 387-2904.

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