By Chrissy Russillo, Managing Director of King County Metro’s Paratransit Rideshare Operations program

With the help of customers and advocates, King County Metro is just a few weeks away from reaching a major milestone toward improving Access paratransit service.

Later this month, we plan on calling on contractors to formally resubmit service proposals that will better meet the expectations and needs of our customers.

A list of key changes was developed with Access customers and advocates of the disability community, built over the course of 11 workgroup meetings from September through April.

The result for customers will be better accountability and higher standards for on-time performance than we have under our current contracts. We also will have more financial incentives to encourage contractors to improve performance and customer service, reduce costs and travel times – and penalties if standards aren’t met.

King County Metro’s Access program carried 958,000 trips last year, serving 10,000 customers. Paratransit is an expensive service. In fact, we currently have one of the nation’s highest cost per trip. There are several factors contributing to this. Some are policy-related, such as the decision to go above the ADA minimum requirements. Others are outside of our control, like the fact that Seattle has some of the worst traffic in the nation – leading to longer trip times for customers.

We continue to look for ways to contain costs without compromising service quality, including partnering with community organizations to provide lower-cost transportation options. And, of course, we work to make our bus system as accessible as possible for all people. Access paratransit serves riders who cannot otherwise ride bus service in King County.

We first asked for contractor proposals last year, however Access riders and other stakeholders communicated their disappointment that they were not more directly involved in the development of the Request for Proposals. They advocated for a more inclusive process, so at the direction of the King County Council, Metro paused the RFP process and formed the workgroup.

Our current schedule will have a new contract online in July 2019. In the meantime, Metro already has made changes to improve service for customers. We’ve improved on-time performance from 86 percent to 91 percent, exceeding our standard of 90 percent. We’ve also improved scheduling policies, strengthened contract management and accountability and provided a tool so riders can learn estimated arrival time via phone or online.

With the workgroup effort coming to a close, we have launched a new Access Task Force with more than 20 riders and advocates who will continue to hold us accountable and help us improve the program. Many of the people involved in the workgroup will continue to serve in the Access Task Force. Some members have different feelings about the outcome of the workgroup process, some are satisfied and some are not. Even though conversations can be difficult at times, we’ll continue to work with them to develop high-quality service for our customers, build trust and hold ourselves accountable.

The experience we have had over the past year has reminded us of the value of pausing to listen to our customers. We are all committed to delivering high quality service – and we cannot do this unless we are working in partnership with those who rely on our service.