At a cost of $60 a trip, King County Metro’s Access transit for disabled riders is expensive and is losing riders, an audit finds. Metro agrees and says it’s buying smaller vehicles and writing new contracts.
King County Metro Transit’s Access service, which carries people with disabilities across the county, is inefficient and fails to promote service for non-English-speaking riders, says a county audit issued Tuesday.
“Since 2008, the number of rides [Access] Transit gives have gone down, trips have become longer, and costs have increased,” the 60-page audit says.
Access spends $61 million a year, or 9 percent of all transit operating dollars, to carry 900,000 passengers, less than 1 percent of total transit use.
Among other problems, Metro pays contractors by the hour to drive clunky 13-person minibuses. Usually they carry one customer and make some return trips empty.
As of December last year the operating costs reached $60 per ride, compared with an average $40 in peer cities, the report says.
The transportation services are required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
When Access does carry more people for efficiency, passengers sometimes spend extra time being “taken on circuitous routes,” the audit says. Half of riders surveyed said they’re dissatisfied with travel times.
Metro has a chance to correct flaws in mid-2018, when a new contract takes effect. Rules for bidders include “a robust incentive for cost-effective service,” the audit says.
Already, Metro says it’s buying smaller, more efficient vans. A new policy forbids dropping someone off more than 30 minutes early at an appointment — reducing long waits that have left people stranded in the cold.
“We concur with the audit recommendations, and the improvements called for align with what we’ve heard from customers,” Christina O’Claire, Metro assistant general manager, said Tuesday.
In his written response to auditors, County Executive Dow Constantine said costs are high partly because Access takes people more places at a lower fare ($1.75) than federal law requires.
Auditors say some of Access’ ridership drop — 25 percent since 2008 — is due to a program that supplies vans directly to social-service providers, and to low-floor buses that make regular Metro routes more usable.
Auditors also encourage more use of taxis, which cover less than 10 percent of Access calls now.