Valencia Moody said she would appreciate a little consideration.
Moody, a Waldorf resident, is blind, and relies on MetroAccess, a shared-ride, door-to-door service the Washington Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority (WMATA) offers to disabled riders who cannot ride buses or trains.
In Moody’s view, one of the things WMATA needs to do is step up disability sensitive training for MetroAccess workers.
“I’ve come across times where I’m actually grabbed in order to ‘assist me,’” Moody told reporters April 25. “And they automatically assume that because I’m a blind person, that that’s the best way to assist me without actually asking me if that’s the best way to assist me or, ‘How can I help you’ or even first, do I need help?”
Moody serves as the second vice president of the National Harbor Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. On April 25, she joined with about a dozen other advocates at a news conference in front of WMATA headquarters. There, they demanded that WMATA prioritize disabled riders.
They primarily want WMATA to develop a worker-rider agenda for MetroAccess and to take ownership of the service and stop contracting it out. They say that process encourages the contractor to pay low wages to workers, which in turn fuels rapid turnover.
“This is a really basic solution that no one wants to address, which is fund your priorities,” said Todd Brogan, a field mobilization specialist at Amalgamated Transit Union International. “If you care about these people, if you genuinely do, then you need to invest resources and provide them transportation. It’s the most basic right. If you can’t move, you cannot work, you cannot go to the doctor, you cannot take care of yourself.”
Data from WMATA shows that in February 2017, there were 201,091 trips scheduled and 158,403 trips delivered. That month, 186,181 people used the service. And it was roughly 87 percent on time, falling a few percentage points below its 92 percent on-time performance goal. Riders make reservations online or over the phone.
Gloria Swieringa of Fort Washington, Md. complained that an error in MetroAccess’ system made her miss an important meeting she had on April 23. The blind activist said she made her reservation on April 22, but that it was never entered into the system.
“So when I called to find out where my driver was, he wasn’t,” she said.
In an emailed statement, a WMATA spokeswoman acknowledged Transdev, one of the companies it contracts with, was unable to cover some routes assigned to them, but denied MetroAccess rides were arbitrarily canceled.
“Metro has been working in partnership with our paratransit providers, including Transdev, to recruit, hire and train additional operators to meet growing ridership demand, which is now at the highest level since 2011,” Sherry Ly, WMATA’s manager of media relations, told the AFRO via email. “As part of that effort, Metro recently agreed to modifications in the contract allowing Transdev to be more competitive in the job market. This has resulted in higher wages for operators and improved service to customers.”
The Rev. H. Lionel Edmonds of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in the District says roughly a dozen of his parishioners rely on MetroAccess to go to the grocery store, doctor’s appointments and to attend church and he pledged to keep their issues at the forefront.
Oftentimes, other church members aren’t aware that the disabled ones who rely on MetroAccess are having issues with the service arriving on time, which makes it harder for the church to help them.
“They may have disabilities but they’re proud, they have self esteem,” Edmonds said. “They want to get around by themselves so a lot of times, we don’t even know what they’re going through unless you’re an eyewitness of it.”
Brogan says he too will continue to keep the pressure on.
“You get what you pay for and that if this is a priority, if allowing people with disabilities to live as freely as everyone else is an actual priority for jurisdictional leaders … they need to invest in this system,” he said.