Big changes to Merced County paratransit

Margaret Buchmann-GarciaJuly 31, 2012 

— GSGMerced County Transit will be implementing major changes to public transportation in the next few months.

Those most affected by the changes will be the users of Dial-a-Ride. Despite many concerns and public comments, the changes were approved for implementation at the last Merced County Association of Governments Board meeting. All who use public transportation need to be aware of these upcoming changes.

The first change will be fare increases this September. Fares for Dial-a-Ride will increase 50 percent ($2 to $3 per ride), which will necessitate a 50 percent increase in single-use fixed-route fares. The Dial-a-Ride daily and monthly passes will be eliminated. A $50 Dial-a-Ride discount card will be available. For those who can afford them, the card will be deducted $2.50, instead of $3, for each ride.

Also this September, blind and visually impaired residents will only be able to use Dial-a-Ride for medical appointments at a cost of $5 to $10 each way. As a disabled group, the blind and visually impaired have been singled out as not being eligible for Dial-a-Ride services.

Merced County officials have decided that all of Merced County's roads, walkways, street crossings and entrances to businesses are accessible from fixed-route stops for residents lacking sight. Because many of the blind and visually impaired are able to walk, it is believed there are no barriers to walking short distances. Try walking from the Merced Mall to Best Buy, or from In-Shape City to Food 4 Less in Atwater with limited or no sight. Motorists, please watch out for these pedestrians, especially if you drive a "silent" car.

More major changes to Dial-a-Ride will occur in October. Users of Dial-a-Ride will need to call at least a day in advance, even for an emergency.

Carless Commute will terminate. Rural Dial-a-Ride service will be drastically cut. Only limited lifeline service will be available a few days a week to Atwater for residents of the Hilmar/Stevinson area.

All other rural Dial-a-Ride service will be cut. Merced County rural residents who rely on Dial-a-Ride to get to town for work, college or appointments will no longer have this option, including the disabled.

The Americans with Disabilities Act sets a ¾-mile boundary around fixed routes for paratransit service, and this minimum requirement will be implemented. The disabled who live outside this boundary will no longer have paratransit Dial-a-Ride service to come to town for school, work, medical appointments, or to programs such as Day Out adult day health care or at Kings View Behavioral Health System.

The next major change will take place in January, when seniors will no longer be able to use Dial-a-Ride, except for medical appointments at a cost of $5 to $10 each way. Seniors will only have access to fixed routes to go grocery shopping or get their brown bag and a hot meal at the Cherish Project. Also starting in January, all ADA riders will be re-evaluated by new criteria, which has not yet been determined.

These changes are major for seniors, rural residents, and the disabled, particularly blind and visually impaired residents of Merced County. Most fixed-income Dial-a-Ride users will have a hard time allocating for the fare increases in their budgets. The cuts in service will make life even more difficult.

I can somewhat understand needing to increase fares a bit in these hard economic times. What I cannot understand is Merced County officials eliminating services to those who rely on them and have no other options. No financial reason was given for making these cuts.

As a blind rural resident, I am one of those who will be greatly affected by these changes. Come October, I will lose access to public transportation and do not know how I will get to appointments and work.

Buchmann-Garcia is a rural Merced County resident who is visually impaired. She uses Dial-a-Ride regularly.

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