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Archive for Thursday, October 28, 1999

MORE, NOT LESSSERVICE

October 28, 1999

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The city must make sure that non-profit agencies will be able to fill whatever transportation needs a new fixed-route bus system can't meet.

The worst possible outcome for a new bus system in Lawrence is that service for people now riding buses would be reduced.

City officials and their consultants working on plans for a fixed-route bus system say they will be required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide paratransit services for anyone who qualifies as disabled. If the new service adequately fills the needs of that population in Lawrence, it likely will reduce demand on the existing on-demand system, as officials predict.

However, a city transportation planner's comment about existing bus services being able to continue without difficulty -- even without city funding -- seems somewhat cavalier.

"The important thing to remember is that those other services don't need to disappear," Aaron Bartlett said. "They can continue operating their service with county funding. The city didn't even get into the picture until the mid-1990s with DCAT."

At that time, DCAT (Douglas County Area Transit) became the umbrella scheduling entity for city-subsidized bus rides for local residents as well as rides provided by Douglas County Senior Services and Independence Inc., both of which previously had operated independent buses for their own clients, using various funding sources.

Because Independence Inc. focuses on people with physical disabilities, most of their clients probably would qualify for services under the ADA-mandated paratransit system. However, users of Bus 62, the previous bus service operated by DCSS were only required to be 55 years old or older. Their physical condition was not considered and might not qualify them to use the city's paratransit system.

But even if they don't meet a federal standard for being disabled, many of these people, for various reasons, can't or don't drive and they need a door-to-door transportation service. The city assumes that Independence Inc. and DCSS will simply be able to reinstate that service. The two bus systems were more or less compelled to merge with the city-funded system several years ago; now the city is saying its money is needed elsewhere and the other two agencies simply will have to resurrect their systems and serve whomever the city cannot serve. It's possible that those agencies can do that, but it probably won't be as easy as city officials would make it sound.

The details of the city's paratransit system -- exactly how rides will be scheduled and provided and how much of a financial burden it will add to the overall bus system -- have not been spelled out. Perhaps it will be a desirable service that will lure many eligible riders away from other services operated by non-profit agencies. But, as they proceed with their planning, city officials must make sure that those agencies are willing and able to pick up the services that the city will not provide and that no one using the existing on-demand bus system will go without the service they need.

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