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MTS ADA Compliance Review - June 4, 2009

Location: San Diego, CA
Date of Final Report: June 4, 2009     

Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Transmittal Letter

June 4, 2009 
Re: ADA Compliance Review of MTS ADA Complementary Paratransit Service

Dear Mr. Jablonski:

Thank you for your response to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) letter and preliminary report of findings of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) Complementary Paratransit Service Compliance Review conducted at the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) from February 5 to 8, 2008.  Since your letter of February 18, 2009 had no comments on or corrections to the Draft Report which was forwarded, that report is now considered a Final Report and a copy so marked is enclosed.  As of the date of this letter the Final Report became a public document and is subject to dissemination under the Freedom of Information Act of 1974.

Enclosed with this letter is a progress table listing FTA’s understanding of the corrective actions either planned or taken by MTS in response to the preliminary findings contained in the draft report.  If you feel that our summarization of corrective actions is inconsistent with your response, please inform us in writing as soon as possible.

Based on our understanding of each of MTS’s responses to the findings, we have:

  • Identified whether the response adequately addresses the finding
  • Requested any needed documentation of results and outcomes
  • Requested, when appropriate, that MTS clarify specific corrective actions in response to the finding

Please use the enclosed table as the format to report progress to FTA on the corrective actions that MTS has completed or intends to implement as a result of our findings.  Please identify each response by item number (e.g., 1.1, etc.).  The requested documentation, along with updates on the status of implementation of proposed corrective actions, should be provided in quarterly reports to FTA.  Each report should include the planned and actual completion date of the corrective action; the current status and contact person information for each corrective action; and specific reporting requests cited in this letter and on the enclosed table.  The first report will be due on July 15, 2009, and should include data for the months of January through June 2009, and any actions completed prior to that date that have not already been addressed.

Additional reports addressing the remaining open findings will be due by October 15, 2009, January 15, 2010, and each calendar quarter thereafter until FTA releases MTS from this reporting requirement.  FTA will attempt to respond to each quarterly report that it receives from MTS, but please note that quarterly reports are due from MTS regardless of whether FTA has responded to the previous report.

We recognize the progress that you have made in responding to the findings of the review as presented in your February 18, 2009 letter and the attached table dated January 14, 2009.  In addition to these efforts, we request that your first progress report more fully respond to the following findings, which are also addressed in the attached progress table.

1.  Service Criteria and Complaint Handling Process

9. Finding.  MTS does not have a policy for providing a final response to all individuals who lodge a valid complaint.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  MTS will review the possibility of having all complaints registered in a central MTS database.  The complaint would be researched and responded to by the contractor but MTS would have greater oversight on the response content and the timeliness of the response.  We need sufficient time to modify existing computer software and train a customer service staff on the requirements of ADA paratransit service.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In addition to centralizing complaint handling, is MTS considering adopting a policy to respond to all valid complaints?

Additional Reporting:  Please report on progress to register complaints in a central database and to respond to valid complaints in the next Quarterly Progress Report.

10. Finding.  In most cases, the spreadsheet used to track complaints does not include information about contacts made by MTS or First Transit with the individuals who file complaints.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  MTS believes that centralizing the complaint handling process into one computerized system should satisfy this finding.  We currently have a centralized complaint handling for our fixed route in house and contracted services.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Is it MTS’s intent that the centralized complaint database will include a field that documents contacts made and responses given to individuals who file valid complaints?

2.  ADA Complementary Paratransit Eligibility

6. Finding.  Of 16 sample determinations that resulted in denials of eligibility, 13 appeared appropriate.  In one of the other three, the information in the file suggested that the applicant probably should have been granted restricted ADA paratransit eligibility.  The applicant used a wheelchair and there were clear path-of-travel issues that were not considered.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  Path of travel questions have been improved on the new application to prevent inaccurate denials of service. While the path of travel is important information, the particular client in question was a frequent bus user and identified no barriers in independent bus usage.  This case was reviewed by senior Orthopedic Hospital staff and the determination to deny service was confirmed. Currently, all applicants have the opportunity to report any barriers in the public transit usage to be considered by ADARIDE staff.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  The applicant cited in the finding used a wheelchair.  Accessible and safe paths of travel would therefore be an issue for this applicant.  Regardless of whether or not the applicant specifically cited this, the reviewers should take this fact into consideration when making a determination of ADA paratransit eligibility.  It is common that applicants, not understanding all of the complexities of ADA paratransit eligibility, will indicate a type of disability or mobility aid used and assume that this will be sufficient to qualify them.  They may not always identify all of the potential barriers that may affect them in future travel.  A thorough and accurate eligibility determination process should note the type of disability and mobility aids used, anticipate the possible barriers that might apply, and gather additional information from applicants to address all potential travel issues.

It is troubling that senior staff at Orthopedic Hospital reviewed this case and still did not feel that a rider who uses a wheelchair will invariably be affected by a potential lack of a safe, accessible path of travel when traveling throughout the service area over the next several years.  This indicates an incorrect understanding of ADA Paratransit Eligibility.  MTS should address this with its new eligibility contractor.

Additional Reporting: Please discuss how ADARides is taking into account path of travel in its eligibility determination process.

10. Finding.  The “Ineligible Notification” letter indicates that applications from children under the age of 7 are not eligible for paratransit service.  There is no minimum age for eligibility under the ADA.  If, as indicated by staff, MTS’s policy is to require children 6 years of age and under to be accompanied by adults when using the transit system, ADA paratransit eligibility determinations should consider the ability of the “team” (child plus accompanying adult) to use fixed route service when reviewing applications from children under this systemwide age minimum.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  Our internal research reveals that we do not have a formal policy regarding the minimum age for independent travel.  We will amend Ordinance 13 to specify that the minimum age to ride independently on all MTS services will be six (6) years of age or older.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please clarify that, in addition to amending Ordinance 13, it is MTS’s intent to not outright deny children under the age of six, but to evaluate the child and accompanying adult as a team to assess abilities to use the fixed route service.

Additional Reporting:  In the next Quarterly Progress Report, please report on progress to amend Ordinance 13 and to adopt this new eligibility policy.

12. Finding.  MTS grants visitor eligibility to individuals who are determined ADA paratransit eligible by other public transit systems.  Section 37.127(d) of the DOT ADA regulations also requires that visitor eligibility be granted to individuals with disabilities not certified by other public transit systems who claim a qualifying functional limitation.  The MTS Rider’s Guide and other public information did not mention that visitor eligibility is also extended to individuals who have not been granted eligibility by any transit entity, but who indicate that they have a disability and are unable to use the fixed route system.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  MTS understands the ADA regulation requiring “each entity shall treat as eligible for its complementary paratransit service all visitors who present documentation, under 37.127, in the jurisdiction in which they reside”.

MTS has always followed this practice.  Appendix D of the ADA regulation states that the first method for a visitor to become eligible for paratransit service is to present documentation from their “home” jurisdiction’s paratransit system as MTS is currently doing.

It further states that if the documentation from another entity is not available then the local provider may require the provision of proof of visitor status and, if the individual’s disability is not apparent, proof of the disability.

MTS will continue our practice of asking for certifying documents from the visitor’s home agency.  In cases where this is not available, MTS will accept other forms of documentation as stated in Appendix D.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please clarify if it is MTS’s intent to also revise its Riders Guide and other public information to indicate that visitors who do not have documentation from another transit agency can use the service if they have an apparent disability or by presenting reasonable documentation of disability if they do not have an apparent disability.

13. Finding.  The review of application processing time showed that 18 of the 24 determinations that did not involve in-person assessments were made in 21 calendar days or less.  All 18 determinations that were analyzed that did include in-person assessments took more than 21 days, with the processing time ranging from 32 to 128 days.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  The delays in processing were 100% based on the applicant’s inability to attend the first available appointment for an in-person interview or a cancellation of that appointment.  If selected for an in-person assessment; the 21 day timeline would only start after the completion of this assessment.  No eligibility process took longer than 21 days after the in-person assessment.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  We reviewed the data collected for this finding.  Six of the determinations that took more than 21 days did not involve an in-person assessment.  And, in cases where assessments were required, delays due to applicants’ cancellation of appointments were not included in the calculations.  If the record indicated that the applicant had cancelled an offered appointment, the delay until the assessment could actually be conducted was not counted.  In many cases, though, the record did not include documentation of applicant cancellations of the initial appointment.

Also, while it is acceptable to start the 21 day timeline only after an in-person assessment is conducted, it is important that assessments be scheduled in a timely way (i.e., 7 to 10 days).  In most cases reviewed, assessments were not conducted until more than 20 days after the receipt of a completed application.  In seven of the 18 cases examined, the assessments were not completed until more than 40 days after the receipt of a completed application.

Further Reporting:  Please re-review the “Review of Application Processing Time” section of the Final Report and provide a corrective action for this finding.

4.  Trip Reservations and Scheduling

3. Finding.  The trip booking process established by MTS does not appropriately negotiate requested pickup times.  Even though multiple pickup options may exist, reservationists offer only one pickup time when a rider states a desired pickup time.  To get other possible options, riders must change their original desired pickup time.  Also, even if riders indicate an earliest departure time for return trips, such as the time they leave work, the one trip offer given often requires riders to depart before this stated earliest departure time (e.g., before they get out of work).  Similarly, even if riders state an appointment time and allow the recommended travel time between the requested pickup and the appointment, MTS may offer pickup times that allow less than the recommended time to get riders to their appointments.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  We will direct First Transit to offer two (2) times whenever possible so that the transit customer can select the pickup time that works best for them.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In addition to offering more than one option, what action does MTS propose to address the portion of the finding that states “even if riders indicate an earliest departure time for return trips, such as the time they leave work, [trip offers] given often require riders to depart before the stated earliest departure time (e.g., before they get out of work).  Similarly, even if riders state an appointment time…MTS may offer pickup times that allow less than the recommended time to get riders to their appointments.”

Is it MTS’s intent that the two trip offers will not be inconsistent with earliest departure times and appointment times indicated?  If so, please discuss how MTS will ensure that the offers satisfy earliest departure and appointment times.

4. Finding.  For the trips that are not scheduled while the rider is on the phone but left in the system to be scheduled later by schedulers, the practice of not recording earliest possible departure times or appointment times, and not taking these trip needs into consideration, could result in trip offers that not only fail to meet rider needs, but which are communicated to riders in a way that does not allow them to request changes.  If a pickup time that does not meet actual trip needs is communicated back to a rider via call-back close to 5 p.m. on the day before the day of service, left on an answering machine and picked up by the rider after 5 p.m., the rider has no option to call back and negotiate the time.  The only option at that point would be to request a same-day trip, which is not a guaranteed ADA trip.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS.  On trips that cannot be scheduled while on the phone, we will ask the First Transit Call Center agents to capture all trip data and we will direct the Schedulers to find a trip that satisfies the needs of the passenger.  We will also ask First Transit to have a scheduler return the call to the passenger so that a change, if necessary, can occur after the reservations group has closed for the day.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please clarify that the proposed corrective action to ask call center agents to capture trip data and schedulers to find a trip that satisfies the needs of the passenger includes requesting, capturing and considering appointment times and earliest departure times in the reservations and scheduling processes.

Additional Reporting:  In the next Quarterly Progress Report, please indicate exactly how this will be done and what features of the Trapeze system will be used to ensure that this information is captured and used.

5. Finding.  The trip booking process for ADA paratransit service established by MTS also does not capture or record appointment or desired arrival times, or take these times into consideration in preparing schedules or dispatching service.  Reservationists tell riders that MTS cannot guarantee set arrival times at destinations.  Instead, reservationists tell riders to leave adequate time between their requested pickup and desired arrival time.  However, even when riders do leave the recommended time between requested pickups and desired drop-offs, the system may offer pickup times that do not allow enough time to guarantee an on-time drop-off.  Although scheduling by appointment times is not explicitly required by the DOT ADA regulations, many transit systems, including large systems, have such a scheduling option.  Absence of appointment time scheduling likely makes reservation scheduling unnecessarily frustrating for riders and reservation calltakers.  Given that MTS fixed route riders can use an online trip planner and posted route schedules in order to schedule their trips so that they arrive at their destinations at particular times, it seems inequitable to not provide similar options to paratransit riders.  It may also be discriminatory, for purposes of the DOT ADA regulations, and therefore violate the general non-discrimination mandate of 49 CFR § 37.5.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  Our scheduling algorithm is programmed to use pickup times since drop off times is not a required scheduling parameter under DOT regulations.  This scheduling procedure does not violate 49 CFR 37.5.

Providing passengers with additional choices in pick up times as outlined above should alleviate any scheduling concerns they may be experiencing.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  While the DOT ADA regulations do specifically mention pickup times, they also consider “any operational pattern or practice that significantly limits the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons” to be capacity constraints.  FTA considers practices that do not ensure timely arrivals at destinations to be practices significantly limit the availability of service.  Timely arrivals at destinations are at least as important, and often more important to riders as timely pickups.

It is also our understanding that the Trapeze scheduling algorithm is designed to use either requested pickup time or desired drop-off time as the key field in scheduling and that the use of these fields is a user choice.  For “going” trips when appointment time is crucial, it is our understanding that call center agents can enter the appointment time and Trapeze can generate an appropriate pickup time.  For return trips where the desired pickup time is the important time, call center agents can enter the desired pickup time to generate trip options.

Additional Reporting:  Please reconsider this finding and provide a corrective action in the next Quarterly Progress Report.

6. Finding.  The confusion and difficulties caused by the trip booking process may constitute a capacity constraint.  Section 37.131(f) of the DOT ADA regulations defines a capacity constraint to include “any operational pattern or practice that significantly limits the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons.”  Ten of the 11 riders and advocates contacted in advance of the review cited the trip booking process as a significant source of frustration and confusion.  Firsthand observations found that 15 of 201 trip bookings (7.5 percent) required riders to leave work or appointments early or did not allow the recommended travel time to ensure a timely arrival for a stated appointment.  Firsthand observations also confirmed rider frustration with the trip booking process.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  As defined by DOT, capacity constraints are defined as restrictions on the number of trips an individual will be provided, waiting lists for access to the service, or any operational pattern or practice that significantly limits the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons. 

As confirmed by this review, MTS does not impose trip caps or waiting lists for paratransit.  MTS has a high on time performance rate operating within a ten (10) minute window.  There have been no trip denials as confirmed in this report nor did the audit reveal an excessive amount of missed trips.  FTA analysis revealed that 88% of trips were 60 minutes or less.

While the report did find that 39% of paratransit trips took longer than the same trip on fixed route, this is still within the industry “standard” established by Project Action which suggest that paratransit trips should not take more than twice the comparative travel time on fixed route.

MTS does not believe that we have “capacity constraints”.   We will continue to fully satisfy all passenger trip requests utilizing the full scheduling window of one hour before or one hour after.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  MTS’s response does not address the difficulties that were recorded in numerous trip reservations observations that were caused by the current trip booking process.  It also does not consider that most of the riders contacted by FTA as part of the review reported significant difficulties with the current trip booking process.  Please provide a corrective action that responds to these observed and reported difficulties and frustrations for the observed and reported difficulties with the current trip booking process.

7. Finding.  The negotiation process used by MTS and First Transit could also be masking capacity constraints in the system.  If the initial pickup time requested by a rider generates a solution that does not meet the rider’s needs for the trip, the rider may request several other pickup times.  In some instances, no solutions are available for these subsequent requested pickup times.  When no solutions can be found for subsequent requests, though, the tendency of both riders and reservationists is to treat these subsequent times as just part of a series of times in the negotiation process.  The subsequent times do not typically get left in the system as TBS trips; riders and reservationists will go back to one of the times that did generate a solution and the rider will decide to either take one of the times offered or call back later.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  We will provide the Call Center Agents with two choices that they can offer the passenger.  Each trip choice offered will be within the one hour before or after the reservation window.  Providing two or more trip options to our passengers should alleviate passenger concerns regarding the reservations and scheduling process.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Observations made by FTA reviewers and documented in the Final Report include several instances where multiple trip offers were provided and none met the rider’s trip needs.  This was the case because key considerations, such as appointment times and earliest departure times were not being recorded in the scheduling system and numerous offers were being generated without this key information.  Offering two options but still not entering key information like appointment and earliest departure times will not, in our analysis, address issues with the current scheduling process.

The finding noted that the practice of requiring riders to revise their original desired travel times tended to mask capacity constraints in the system since it would appear that the “revised” time was accommodated, when in fact the original desired travel time was actually not accommodated.

Additional Reporting:  Please review and reconsider this proposed corrective action.  Also, please confirm that any revised trip booking process will not require riders to revise their originally stated requested pickup times or desired drop-off times in order to have alternative trip offers generated.

5.  Service Performance

5. Finding.  MTS does not have a performance standard for drop-off (appointment) times.  It does not book trips by drop-off time, nor does it record appointment times.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  Our ADA service is based on pickup times and all passengers requesting service will be provided with a trip and a pickup time that is within one hour of their requested time.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  See Finding 4.5 above.  While the DOT ADA regulations do specifically mention pickup times, they also consider “any operational pattern or practice that significantly limits the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons” to be capacity constraints.  FTA considers practices that do not ensure timely arrivals at destinations to be practices significantly limit the availability of service.

Timely arrivals at destinations are at least as important, and often more important to riders as timely pickups.

Additional Reporting:  Please reconsider this finding and provide a corrective action in the next Quarterly Progress Report.

10. Finding.  MTS defines transit provider missed trips too narrowly.  MTS only considers trips for which the vehicle arrives more than 60 minutes after the negotiated pickup time to be missed trips.  If the vehicle arrives after the end of the pickup window but less than 60 minutes after the negotiated pickup time, and the trip is not taken by the rider, MTS does not consider this as a missed trip; it is simply a late trip.  If no pickup occurs because the passenger is no longer there, then MTS classifies this as an “advance cancel,” with no penalty against the passenger or First Transit.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  We would agree that a trip arriving at the pickup point 60 minutes or more after the established pickup time should be counted as a service failure against the provider.  This service failure would be unaffected by whether the passenger accepted this late trip.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  MTS’s response does not address its classification of trips not taken by riders when the vehicle showed up late (but less than 60 minutes after the scheduled pickup time) as “advance cancels.”  Riders clearly did not cancel these trips in advance.  In FTA’s opinion, a trip not taken when a vehicle shows up late is a missed trip.  MTS may choose not to penalize the service provider for a missed trip when a vehicle arrives less than 60 minutes late, but the occurrences should still be recorded as missed trips.

13. Finding.  When the actual travel times of 36 long ADA paratransit trips (those with travel times of 60 minutes or more) provided between January 6 and January 12 were compared with the estimated travel times for comparable fixed route trips, 14 MTS ADA paratransit trip travel times (39 percent) were longer than comparable fixed route travel times, by an average of 34 minutes.  For one ADA paratransit trip, the estimated fixed route travel time was the same as the paratransit travel time.  Travel times on 21 ADA paratransit trips (58 percent) were less than the comparable fixed route travel time, by an average of 21 minutes.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  The industry standard has always been to provide paratransit service with the time constraint of twice as long as it would take on the comparable fixed route operation.  Source: Easter Seals (Project Action).

We will review the estimated times listed in our FAQ and Rider’s Guide to ensure that we are uniform in all publications.

The change in policy to a “coordinated vehicle” transfer should significantly reduce the travel times experienced on relatively few long rides.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please cite the source of MTS’s claim that twice the fixed route time is an “industry standard.”  FTA does not consider such a standard to be appropriate.  Clearly, if a fixed route trip took 90 minutes to complete, it would not be reasonable to have a paratransit ride time of three hours.  The “two times fixed route” approach is not appropriate for longer fixed route trips.

FTA would suggest a standard that considers the total fixed route travel time, including transfers, plus a reasonable allowance for walking time to and from fixed route stops.  This would be similar to the approach taken to evaluate paratransit ride times in Section 9.6 of the Final Report.

Additional Reporting:  Please re-review this finding and proposed corrective action.  In addition, please periodically analyze a sample of long paratransit rides, using the methodology detailed in Section 9.6 of the Final Report, and provide results of the analysis in future Quarterly Progress Reports.  Note in particular the impacts of any changes in the transfer policy.

6.  Resources

3. Finding.  First Transit does not have enough vehicle operators to cover daily pull-out.  Based on a review of a sample week’s pull-out records, about 10 percent of weekday and Sunday runs are closed due to a lack of vehicle operators.  First Transit also is not able to maintain a reasonable scheduled extraboard to cover for expected same-day call-outs.

Corrective Action Proposed by MTS:  First Transit reports 140 vehicle operators for 130 biddable shifts.  All shifts are covered and they have an Extra Board sufficient to cover most contingencies.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  While all bid shifts may be selected, FTA reviewers observed that First Transit did not have an adequate extraboard to cover scheduled and unscheduled callouts.  As noted in the finding, 10% of runs examined were closed due to a lack of available drivers.  MTS’s response to this finding states that First Transit has an adequate extraboard to “cover most contingencies.”  What percent of runs are now being closed?

Additional Reporting:  Please report on the total number of closed runs and the percentage of scheduled runs closed due to a lack of drivers in the next Quarterly Progress Report.

We recognize the efforts that MTS has already taken to correct the deficiencies identified in the draft report, and we anticipate your continued endeavors to take further corrective actions as noted in this letter.  We appreciate the cooperation and assistance that you and your staff have provided us during this review.  Should you have any questions about the enclosed report, the reporting table, or this letter, please contact Ms. Susan Clark, Equal Opportunity Specialist, at (202) 493-0511 or at her e-mail address: sue.clark@dot.gov.  Please provide a copy of each quarterly progress reporting table to her via e-mail.

It would be helpful if you would provide a copy of all correspondence to this office to the FTA Regional Civil Rights Office at the following e-mail address:  derrin.jordan@dot.gov.
      

Sincerely,


Cheryl Hershey
Director
FTA Office of Civil Rights

Enclosures
cc: Leslie T. Rogers, FTA Region IX Administrator
 Derrin Jourdan, FTA Region IX Civil Rights Officer
 Nadeem S. Tahir, FTA Region IX Director of Program Management & Oversight
 Susan A. Clark, FTA Office of Civil Rights

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