OAKLAND (KPIX) — Over the past three months KPIX has been highlighting a problem plaguing people with special needs in the Bay Area: Many who are not able to take public transit rely on paratransit buses, that are notoriously slow and unreliable. Now one East Bay official is taking action.
“Its horrible,” said BART Director Barbara Allen. She says something must be done after seeing our reports about the hardships endured by disabled riders on East Bay paratransit buses.
“Taxpayers are spending 43 million a year. We have to look into this.”
KPIX 5 put a tracker in Jonathan Tomasini’s backpack for two months and discovered buses taking him on huge detours — sometimes more than three hours long — on his trip home to Oakland from adult day school just 19 miles away in Castro Valley.
“He was crying, he was really upset,” said his sister Gina Brooke.
It was much the same for Zakk Donald. The distance from his day program in Berkeley to his house in Alameda is about ten miles but his bus ride home was also taking him way off track.
“He’s been on the bus for three to four hours at a time,” said his mother Jean Donald.
In an earlier interview, East Bay Paratransit general manager Jay Jeter said “if we get concerns from a rider we try to address these situations (and) we will make adjustments to the route.”
After KPIX told him about Tomasini and Donald, both are now arriving home in record time. But a group of disabled East Bay residents and family members say that, for them, nothing has changed. All echoed similar stories about long waits and even longer rides and they told KPIX their complaints go nowhere.
“Usually it doesn’t get me anywhere, it goes into a hole,” said Beth Pao, who spoke on behalf of her 91-year-old mother.
“We don’t know where to take it. I mean we can lodge our complaints but what do we do after that?” Thoette Moore asks, speaking for her disabled daughter.
A private multi-national corporation called Transdev operates East Bay Paratransit. Taxpayers foot the $43 million bill, funded through BART and AC Transit.
Neither agency would talk to KPIX but BART’s Debora Allen says her agency must bear responsibility.
“The contract between BART and AC Transit and the broker — that contract states that BART has oversight on audit and compliance. So I am actually in the process of inquiring as to how much oversight we are doing,” Allen said.
Her first stop: A monthly meeting of the BART Accessibility Task Force, where she hand-delivered copies of a 2015-16 audit conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. It calls on East Bay Paratransit to eliminate service denials and reduce late-trip cancellations, passenger no-shows and mechanical failures.
Allen suggested the group check to see if those recommendations are actually being followed.
“I think this is an area where we can really make a difference and we can try to work to improve and I know that is what your task force is here for,” said Allen.
“I think it’s something we need to take a deeper look into and a deeper dive into, because it is an ongoing challenge,” echoed task force president Randall Glock.
KPIX contacted Transdev corporate headquarters in Maryland. They said they are preparing a comprehensive data-driven analysis of paratransit services in the East Bay. They anticipate the report will be completed soon. KPIX will report on that as soon as it becomes available.