Paratransit Eligibility Certification Program Modifications
Matthew O. Tucker, Chief Operating Officer, stated that in 2001 VTA experienced a severe decline in sales tax revenue and ridership due to the general down turn in the economy and at the same time the paratransit program was experiencing significant increases in ridership.
Consultant studies identified opportunities for VTA to contain costs such as adopting paratransit eligibility guidelines consistent with the Americans with Disability Act. Mr. Tucker clarified that eligibility guidelines under ADA are not determinations made upon medical capability, it is a determination based upon the functional capability of an individual to complete a transit trip
Mr. Tucker said that the Board of Directors approved implementing a new paratransit eligibility certification program in 2003 and VTA contracted with Orthopaedic Hospital to conduct assessments. Mr. Tucker outlined the terms of the contract approved by the Board all current users totaling 13,128 users plus new applicants, totaling more 4,000 would be certified over a three-year period and a requirement there be multiple locations for added convenience for applicants needing certification. Mr. Tucker noted that a year later staff conducted a follow-up survey and reported to the Board that staff would be working collaboratively with CTA to streamline the program.
Board Member Gonzales requested at the Transportation Planning & Operations Meeting of October 21, 2004, staff provide a presentation at the November 5, 2004 Board Workshop Meeting. At that Workshop the Board requested staff develop a proposal for modifications to the eligibility certification process. In developing the proposed changes, staff solicited significant input from the public, CTA, and other key stakeholders. Five public hearings were conducted as well as site visits at five agencies that generate the highest ridership for Outreach Service.
Mr. Tucker provided an outline of Attachment A, Comparison of Current and Staff Recommended Paratrainsit Eligibility Certification Process, highlighting the changes to Steps 1 through 5, which reflecting the publics’ comment with regard to streamlining the program. Some of the public comments received were that some applicants experienced difficulty in completing the application process or felt that the process was too lengthily and as a result staff is proposing the elimination of the application and revising the brochure significantly. The revisions will no longer require potential applicants request a brochure prior to applying for the service nor will applicants have to wait for completion of a third-party verification from their doctors in order to move to the next phase of eligibility process. Mr. Tucker noted that under the new program applicants will only have to follow two steps – make a phone call and attend the in-person interview. A draft copy of the new eligibility process was distributed to the Board Members for review.
Mr. Tucker stated staff is also proposing that the brochure be available in accessible formats and multiple languages. Staff will make the application and brochure available on VTA’s website and will work with CTA to develop a task force to ensure that there is a wide and mass distribution and availability of the brochure and information.
Mr. Tucker reported that changes made to Steps 6 through 9 of Attachment A, are based on public comment to provide transportation at no cost to the applicant. The initial proposal provided to CTA was to provide transportation to new applicants only with new applicants paying the cost that regular customers would be paying associated with receiving a trip. Based upon public comments, staff revised the proposal to provide the service for both new and re-certifying applicants at no cost. Staff has also built in significant flexibility in the program, which will allow a person to be temporarily conditionally approved under certain circumstances that we will evaluate on a case-by-case basis as a result of public concern.
Mr. Tucker stated that in general VTA received varying and mixed public comments with regard to the proposal. Some comments reflected a desire for VTA to go back to the old Outreach process, that the physician certification is sufficient, the cost of administration of the program is too expensive, some comments commended VTA for the proposed changes to the program, comments were received that requested the applications be provided in alternate formats and to provide free rides to all applicants, including re-certifying applicants.
Mr. Tucker stated that CTA reviewed and commented on the final staff recommendations at its February 10, 2005 meeting. The only action taken by CTA was a motion to recommend modification of the photo identification from required to prefer. Staff did not support that recommendation out of fear associated with identity theft as well as some security concerns but did ensure that the lack of having an ID would not become a barrier for them to apply for the program and that VTA will forward a letter to Orthopaedic Hospital notifying staff of anyone who comes in under that circumstance to ensure the assistance the applicant needs.
Mr. Tucker advised that Ms. Appelgate submitted a Community Plan for review and Board Member Gage requested staff conduct a comparative analysis to staff’s final recommendation. Mr. Tucker stated that he could not comment on the public review process that was utilized in developing the Community Plan and did not know how extensive the input was received in development of the Plan.
Board Member Casas left his seat at 6:45 p.m.
Board Member Cortese requested verbiage be added to clarify the confusion with the language in of the Draft Brochure and Application, Category Two which states “You believe VTA fixed route service is not accessible. (All VTA Bus and Light Rail service is accessible).” Mr. Tucker explained when language in Category Two was put out it was a time when ADA was initially put in place and transit systems had buses that were not lift equipped and was a mobility barrier for people. Peter M. Cipolla, General Manager stated staff would review the verbiage.
Board Member Williams queried if VTA will have the ability to provide service as outlined in the brochure and if not, how will it impact the people who use the service. Mr. Tucker responded that ADA is a required service for the organization and if VTA finds themselves in a difficult position, priorities will have to be re-established.
Vice Chairperson Chavez left her seat at 6:57 p.m.
Gary Bertucelli, Mental Health Case Manager, stated is unfair and an unnecessary burden to put people through more hoops and steps when already deemed disabled.
Vice Chairperson Chavez took her seat at 6:59 p.m.
Kenneth Frasse, CEO, South Clara Valley Blind Center, referenced comments and testimony submitted to the Board Members before the meeting, expressed concern regarding eligibility process and restrictions and the applicants not able to obtain copies of their records.
Board Member Gonzales requested staff agendize the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center’s letter dated March 2, 2005, for future discussion under Closed Session as it referenced potential litigation.
Ms. Rhodes thanked Board Members for considering changes to the eligibility process, requested staff receive direction to give more input to the people going through the process, and making the process as user friendly as possible.
Mr. Bradley agreed with Ms. Rhodes comments regarding the need to open the process more for disable eligibility and reiterated the importance of applicants having access to their records.
David Julian, CTA Member, recommended staff move forward with Attachment A, Comparison of Current and Staff Recommended Paratransit Eligibility Certification Process, stated the transportation system is not totally wheel chair accessible, also stated he questions the training and qualifications at Orthopaedic Hospital Staff; noted it would have been nice if the Community Plan could have been reviewed and discussed by the CTA before being provided to the Board, and encouraged Board Members to attend a CTA meeting.
Ronald Schwartz, San Jose Senior Citizens Commission, expressed concern regarding the hardship which occurs with the eligibility process and urged the process to be simplified and available for all seniors and disabled.
Board Member Gage took his seat at 7:08 p.m.
Board Member Kniss left her seat at 7:08 p.m.
Bob Jaffee, Council on Aging Advisory Board, referenced AB 133 (Alquist) Regional Transportation Plans and Government Code Section 65080, stated VTA has not complied with Federal and State Older American Act mandates or State Law and requested a response why the they have not complied.
Sandra Gouveia, Peninsula Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and CTA Member, requested the Board Members take note of staff’s tone of voice and the manner the presentation was provided, noted people should be able to receive records when requested, expressed concern regarding VTA’s use of the terms it will be, it is going to be or it is so, requested Board Members attend CTA meetings, and thanked the Board Members for their support.
Board Member Kniss took her seat at 7:13 p.m.
Board Member Gonzales left his seat at 7:16 p.m.
Ms. Applegate stated the interview process is not a functional assessment, expressed concern that staff from Orthopaedic Hospital is not familiar with cognitive disabilities, drug interaction, spinal cord injuries, and sensitivity to heat.
Rose Deterding, Interested Citizen, stated that she likes the proposal in Attachment A, Comparison of Current and Staff Recommended Paratransit Eligibility Certification Process, and hopes the Board Members will vote yes, stated that she has gone through a three-year re-classification, expressed concern regarding Orthopaedic Hospital’s interview process and recommended local specialized medical doctors should be used.
Member Gonzales took his seat at 7:19 p.m.
Ms. Medrano stated some people are born with permanent disabilities, which are not obvious.
Ms. Bonilla expressed concern regarding her interview process.
Dennis Kennedy, Mayor, City of Morgan Hill, requested literature be more widely available, interviews in South County occur monthly, bi-lingual interviewer or interpreter be provided, and requested the Board of Directors adopt the immediate recommendations of providing and paying for rides to both the interview and appeals process, if necessary, eliminating the brochure, replacing it with a one-page brochure and provide in multiple languages and accessible formats and requested alternatives in the eligibility program be considered.
Chris Lepe, Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC) thanked the Board of Directors for the changes made to the eligibility requirements and encouraged additional changes that would make the disabled community feel less disrespected.
Board Member Cortese left his seat at 7:27 p.m.
Darlene Wallach, Interested Citizen, stated she was disgusted that Board Members had their mind already made up and a motion called before receiving public comment. Ms. Wallach stated it is abhorrent that Ms. Applegate was not given more time to present the Community Plan and disgusted that the community is always limited as to how much input they are allowed to provide. Ms. Wallach recommended that VTA should be serving the community. Ms. Wallach recommended the contract with Orthopaedic Hospital should be cancelled.
Board Member Cortese took his seat at 7:28 p.m.
Tessa Hernandez, Health Connection, stated there is need for medical doctors and medical professionals to make medical decisions and also stated an applicant who is permanently disabled should not have to go through interviews.
Ex-Officio Board Member McLemore left his seat at 7:30 p.m.
Todd Gardner, Interested Citizen, expressed concern regarding his treatment while riding public transit using bus connection and recommended automated telephone service for Outreach.
Mr. Grace expressed concern regarding the amount an individual is charged for the purchase of a Regional Transit Commission (RTC) Discount Card if the card is lost.
Ex Officio Board Member McLemore took his seat at 7:33 p.m.
Davidson Wan, Santa Clara Valley Multiple Sclerosis Society, agreed with Ms. Applegate’s comments regarding funding and the eligibility process and requested qualified people be used for the interview process and recorded.
Board Member Gonzales queried if staff does any type of customer evaluation after the qualification process. Mr. Tucker advised that there is a hotline in place wherein customers call to provide feedback throughout the eligibility process and advise of issues. Edna Pampy, Senior Management Analyst, advised a survey was completed after the first year the process was in place which consisted of telephone calls to 150 re-certifying applicants asking them about the process, a mail-in survey for folks due to re-certify but for some reason chose not to do so. Due to some delays in re-certification, staff continued the applicants’ eligibility and advised them of the re-certification process. Mr. Tucker stated that periodic surveys would be made to ensure the program is meeting the needs of the citizens.
Board Member Gage stated it is a new process and necessary to give this program time to see whether it will work or not. Board Member Gage recommended a stamped customer service survey postcard be available to applicants at their interviews, to provide immediate feedback on the interview process.
M/S/C (Williams/Chavez) to adopt the Paratransit Eligibility Certification Plan with Modifications, evaluate the Modified Plan after one year, providing results of the evaluation to the CTA for full discussion and further, as part of continuous improvement, coordinate a full discussion with the CTA to evaluate the “Community Plan; address sensitivity issues which may occur during the evaluation process and evaluate current contractor regarding sensitivity and appropriateness of the contractor’s staff skill-sets; place survey cards in Outreach vehicles; consider alternate methods for applicant to request their information other than in writing; provide clarity regarding conditional status; and, increase interview frequency for remote locations, e.g. South County.
Board Member Casas apologized for challenges applicants face in qualifying for the Program.
Board Member Cortese recommended termination of contract if insensitivity continues with the ADA Community and making a determination immediately as opposed to mandating training.