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Paratransit Riders, Advocates Want Respect From Metro

Lisa Ford of Clinton recalled when she used MetroAccess paratransit services to purchase medication at a Walgreens drug store, but she didn’t immediately leave.

Ford, 38, said she had to wait inside the van because a MetroAccess trainee also went inside the store to purchase hand sanitizer after she ate lunch. Ford said this incident from last month signifies one of many her and other disabled commuters endure on a regular basis.

“Do your job,” Ford, who’s blind, said after a press conference Tuesday in front of Metro headquarters in northwest D.C. “We absolutely appreciate MetroAccess, but everybody [has] to be on the same playing field. There has to be some changes … and make decisions that impact us.”

 

The press conference organized by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 of Silver Spring stressed commuters and workers have been mistreated because Metro decided to contract paratransit services to for-profit companies.

The union says one particular company, Transdev Corp. of Silver Spring, has been contracted by Metro to provide MetroAccess service since 2012. In addition, the union says Transdev has experienced a shortage of drivers and now subcontracts its services.
A representative from Transdev didn’t respond to an email for comment.

Todd Brogan, an organizer for ATU, said Metro “cannot operate a public service with a sweatshop employment model.”

The union estimates Metro’s paratransit services provide more than one million trips annually.

“The whole system is falling apart,” Brogan said. “The problem seems to be that we don’t want to invest in workers who provide the service. We don’t want to invest in the riders who rely on it. The result over time is the natural process of it falling apart at the seams.”

Metro officials didn’t attend the press conference, but the transit agency did release a statement.

“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,” the statement read. “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.”

In the meantime, advocates and commuters such as Gloria Swieringa of Fort Washington demand better overall service.

Swieringa, who is blind, said she’s working to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights division against MetroAccess for constant mishaps whenever she calls to reserve a pickup time.

She’s called Metro to file complaints, but she said it hasn’t worked because MetroAccess doesn’t have a complaint system.

“They’re fabulously fraudulent, wonderful fakers and absolutely breathtakingly dishonest,” Swieringa said. “They are as crooked as the letter S and somehow getting away with it.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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