The 9-1-3-0 Conundrum
(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - 5/11/2016
According to an official report no person with a disability was denied a ride in April 2015 by the paratransit bus system operated under Clinton County auspices.
Consumers who use the paratransit service say trip denials were more than 0 last month.
Background: CCPT (Clinton County Public Transit) provides a regular public bus service and also a second service to people in the disabled community. The county has hired McDonald Transit to manage the CCPT system.
Paratransit provides a vital service for people who have limited mobility such as those who need to use walkers and wheelchairs. There's usually no problem for these people after they arrive to an accessible destination such as a supermarket or shopping mall. The problem is getting to that destination.
While paratransit riders are grateful for the service some of them question the figures given out regarding trip denials.
At a recent meeting of the Clinton County Legislature Transportation Committee the numbers 9-1-3-0 were mentioned. These numbers refer to the total number of trip denials per month during January, February, March and April this year.
There's an issue with how a trip denial is defined and recorded.
For example a rider needs a lift at 1 PM. Under federal guidelines a one hour period is allowed on either side of that time, i.e., the bus may pick up the person within the 12 noon to 2 PM time window.
If the paratransit service can't provide a ride in that time window then it's counted as a trip denial.
But what can confuse the actual number is how a trip denial is considered. Using the same example let's say instead of the 1 PM pick up time paratransit has an opening the same day at 9 AM. Since the person was provided with a ride a trip denial might not be recorded even though the negotiated time was outside the original time frame.
Also it's a trip denial if the rider has to schedule for another day. That adds to the total if correctly recorded.
Accurate numbers are important. Underreporting causes difficulties for consumers. They call dispatch and most of the time end up with trip denials. From their POVs the system is overloaded and so they give up trying to use it.
On the other side the county sees low numbers and assumes that demand is low, consumer needs are being met. The county looks good but in actuality consumers are upset, even angry.
I spoke with two paratransit riders who disagree with the April goose egg total. (Both requested anonymity.) The first rider said they had two trip denials last month. The second one said from their personal experience they had one denial and was aware of others also denied in April.
It makes one wonder the accuracy of the totals for January through March.
So somewhere in the system -- from McDonald Transit to Clinton County -- something doesn't jive. Where is the problem? Unless riders complain to officials no one knows if underreporting is happening.
In the meantime the county says it is getting better data from MacDonald Transit unlike the previous company hired to manage CCPT. Apparently the previous company wasn't properly recording trip denials.
But that has changed according to McDonald Transit and the county: proper reporting is being done.
While some paratransit riders say otherwise.