The Suffolk County Disabilities Advisory Board is looking for ways to reduce late cancellations and no-shows on the Suffolk County Accessible Transit (SCAT) paratransit system following a federal review of the service.
In April 2011, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a tri-annual report on SCAT that cited a high number of no-shows and late cancellations. The Department of Public Works (DPW) that runs SCAT responded with a proposal to decrease the advance reservation time from 7 days to 3 in the hopes of reducing the no-show rate.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows transit providers to take reservations between 1 and 14 days before the scheduled trips but advocates say the ability to book trips a week in advance offers greater convenience to riders.
Board chair Beverly Cody said the proposed change would overwhelm reservation phone lines, as riders who currently book three trips at once for the week would need to call three times instead.
The DPW held two public hearings on December 14th and 15th in Hauppauge and Riverhead that had about 20 speakers in total.
Cody said she requested that the DPW hold the hearings on alternate dates that were not so close to the holidays and send letters notifying riders of the proposed change but neither was done. She also said that notices were not adequately posted on all buses. “They may have been posted on some buses but certainly not all,” she said.
The DPW did not respond to requests for comment.
Bruce Blower, a former member of the board and director of the Suffolk County Office of Handicapped Services who is now retired, said the DPW attributed the highest rate of no-shows to about 19 people who book more than a dozen trips per week and take only two.
Blower said in his hearing testimony, “Two problems need to be addressed to solve this no-show issue. First, DPW must level the playing field by adequately supervising the County contract vendor, bus company no-shows. DPW tells us the fairytale that out of 527,000 SCAT trips last year, there were no bus company no-shows. Secondly, SCAT must set up a system to hold accountable the few riders who regularly schedule numerous trips in advance only to take one or two of them without cancelling them.”
The board voted 7-3 against the change in advance reservation days at its January 25th meeting and plans to discuss alternate ideas for reducing no-shows at its next monthly meeting. Cody said several options include changing the time required for cancellations from two hours before to the evening before and instituting a punitive system such as Able-Ride’s in which riders could face suspensions for repeated missed trips.
Cody also called for greater accountability for the bus company to verify whether recorded missed trips are actually the fault of riders. “Who is supervising the company and dealing with bus company no-shows? How can we verify what the bus company tells DPW? We need hard facts,” she said.
This article was published in the March 2012 issue of Able News.