ST. LOUIS – A controversy over transportation for those with disabilities is going to the Department of Justice.
Paraquad, a disability advocacy group, has filed a complaint against Metro Transit’s plans to cut Call-A-Ride service.
Aimee Wehmeier, president of Paraquad, has been with the company for at least 10 years. She said she knows firsthand how Metro Call-A-Ride’s plan to cut services in some areas will have an impact on riders who need it the most.
“Folks with disabilities have not been receiving the services they need to be independent in the community,” Wehmeier said. “We all want to live a typical life, so we can go to work, go to the doctor, recreation, and see friends, and that’s not possible with the current transportation system.”
On Friday, leaders of several organizations serving people with disabilities and additional community allies also filed a complaint regarding Metro’s Call-A-Ride paratransit program with the Federal Justice Department.
According to the complaint, many Call-A-Ride users are trapped in their homes, are missing medical appointments, and risk losing their job due to service cuts.
Metro officials announced those cuts in February to parts of St. Louis County and noted that over a six-month period last year, 250 customers out of 4,000 users made 10 or more regular trip requests and would not be eligible for the service beginning Monday.
Metro claimed a majority of customers will not be impacted because their origination and destination trips are within the federally required service area.
“Call-A-Ride is a very important issue. We need to adjust our service area so that it accommodates folks and that we are a reliable and regular service,” said Taulby Roach, president, and CEO of Bi-State Development. “Look, it’s a tough decision that we have to make, but we have to create a system reliable for the public.”
Metro Transit’s paratransit system, known as Call-A-Ride, provides services for those with disabilities in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, as required by federal law. Customers call to reserve a ride in a wheelchair-accessible van, which provides curb-to-curb service rather than operating on a fixed route.
Metro officials said at the heart of the issue is staffing and that 40% of operator positions for Call-A-Ride are unfilled, while demand for rides has increased substantially.
“We are adjusting slightly our service area. So there are some folks that would have been covered before by traditional Call-A-Ride, and some of them will now be outside that area,” Roach said. “We let that area expand a little bit too much, and with our current capabilities, as far as workforce, we need to compress that a little, so the services are more reliable.”