Audit Hammers King County Paratransit
by Andy Jones
June 20, 2017
In a new report released June 13, in Washington state, the King County Auditor’s Office slammed the County’s paratransit system, criticizing it for increased costs and constantly failing to maintain predictable schedules for riders.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, all cities must maintain a paratransit system, apart from their regular fixed-route systems, for people with disabilities. In King County, about 8,000 people with disabilities rely on the paratransit system, which costs about $61 million annually.
Since 2008, costs are up 25 percent and now cost the County about $57 per trip, the sixth-highest among the nation’s 40 largest paratransit systems. Further, the report found riders to be frequently frustrated with early drop-off times, with 34 percent of surveyed riders saying they are regularly dropped off at appointment between 30 to 60 minutes early, resulting in people being stranded in bad weather and other hazardous conditions.
The audit criticized the system’s lack of services for people with limited English proficiency, noting in particular its lack of demographic data collection.
It also urged the paratransit system to provide additional payment options beyond just on-board cash payments and monthly passes, while riders on the fixed-route system can have ORCA cards and other options. The auditor found that just 9 percent of riders use it frequently enough for the monthly pass option to be cost effective.
To reduce costs, the audit recommended that the paratransit system rely less on large vans, and more on taxi-type vehicles, especially in light of statistics showing that most vans are carrying only one passenger at a time. Proactive payment incentives for contractors are also encouraged.
Ridership is down 14 percent since 2008. However, much of this trend was attributed to improved transportation options elsewhere, such as the County’s expanding light rail option and increased investment in community-based organizations that provide separate transportation services for people with disabilities.
The full audit can be read here.
An editorial from the Seattle Times about the audit, titled "Shame on Access transit for failing disabled riders and taxpayers," can be read here.