NVC expanding transit options for Sun Cities area

Valley Metro's Paratransit service could be eliminated for eligible Surprise residents starting Oct. 1. [Courtesy of Valley Metro]

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

As Valley Metro moves closer to a decision on changes to the Dial-A-Ride and Paratransit systems that could adversely affect Sun Cities users, Northwest Valley Connect has plans to provide a new program designed to help riders in a bind.

Kathy Chandler

The transit resource agency will add Taxi Connect Easy to its stable of transportation options for Northwest Valley residents. The program will initially be available to senior citizens 65 and older and disabled veterans. If the NVC board approves, it will be open to Northwest Valley residents of any age, according to Kathy Chandler, NVC executive director.

“While the program for all ages is not yet available, we will be taking it to the board for consideration,” she said. “If it is approved, it won’t be available until after the Valley Metro Dial-A-Ride/Paratransit changes go into effect.”

The program is designed to allow NVC staff and volunteers to book Lyft rides for qualified residents. The service will come with a $4 cost on top of the Lyft charge to cover administration expenses. Riders benefit because NVC will monitor the ride to make sure it is completed properly, according to Ms. Chandler.

“Even with the administration charge, the rides (with Lyft) cost most times less than a taxi,” Ms. Chandler said.

Paratransit and RideChoice are the Americans with Disabilities Act transit options in the Valley. But Valley Metro officials are considering changes to the programs that could eliminate some Northwest Valley residents from ridership. According to a Valley Metro letter sent to Paratransit customers, proposed changes would require all new riders be ADA certified for both Paratransit and RideChoice. Riders now registered — but non-certified — will only be able to use the RideChoice service option. Paratransit will be the service option for short trips in the mandated service area within three-quarters of a mile from a fixed bus route.

The only Valley Metro bus routes into Sun City run along Peoria Avenue to 111th Avenue to Thunderbird Boulevard; and the other along Thunderbird Boulevard, with both ending at a stop within the Banner Boswell Medical Center campus, 10401 W. Thunderbird Blvd., and the reverse for outgoing trips. There are no Valley Metro bus routes in Sun City West.

If approved, the changes will take effect Tuesday, Oct. 1.

Previously, residents had to go to the Valley Metro mobility center in downtown Phoenix to be assessed and earn ADA certification. Valley Metro officials conducted mobility assessment workshops in the Northwest Valley in July to improve access to service for those who find it difficult to travel to the mobility center, according to Brittany Hoffman, Valley Metro spokeswoman.

“We chose the Sun Cities area for the first workshop because the county requires ADA certification for all new Paratransit and RideChoice customers and because of the current proposal to change ADA Paratransit services for residents of unincorporated areas of Maricopa County,” she stated in an email.

During the workshop, applicants had face-to-face assessments and interviews with a mobility-assessment evaluator, Ms. Hoffman explained. The assessment was customized based on each applicant’s disability of health-related conditions, she added.

Valley Metro officials signed a new agreement for eligibility certification and travel training services last year and occasional off-site eligibility assessments are required in the contract, Ms. Hoffman stated.

“Workshops like this one will be offered throughout the greater Phoenix area on a periodic basis,” she added.

Ms. Chandler said the idea for Taxi Connect Easy came from a similar program conducted in Sun City West with funding help from the Sun City West Foundation.

“They wanted us to do it for people who are not low-income,” she explained.

In a continuing effort to address the lack of public transportation in the Northwest Valley, Ms. Chandler said NVC officials wrote a grant request to the Tohono O’odham Nation for circulator buses in the Sun Cities. The Nation owns and operates Desert Diamond West Valley Resort, 9431 W. Northern Ave., Glendale.

“We are still waiting to hear about the results of that request,” Ms. Chandler said.

Sun City Community Assistance Network officials voiced concern in May that changes to the Dial-A-Ride system being researched by Valley Metro and Maricopa County officials could impact their services.

Through its “taxi ticket” program, Sun City CAN provides disabled and low-income residents with a prescribed amount of free tickets for the Paratransit program conducted by Valley Metro, a program that used to be known as Dial-A-Ride. Eligible residents get $50 worth of tickets every quarter, which helps them get to doctor appointments, do grocery shopping and make other life-essential trips. Special-needs riders — those who have frequent doctor appointments — get $100, while those with extra special needs — such as having to undergo dialysis, etc. — get $150.

“Like many of the communities where Valley Metro provides Paratransit across the region, Maricopa County is experiencing increasing demand and cost of service,” Ms. Hoffman stated in a May email. “As a result, Valley Metro and the county are working on a plan that meets all federal ADA requirements and preserves the highest level of service possible for the seniors and people with disabilities who depend on these services.”She said none of the proposals under consideration by Valley Metro officials will eliminate Sun City CAN’s ability to subsidize services for its clients.

The ADA certification requirement to participate in Paratransit services, if implemented, will affect about half the regular users of CAN’s taxi tickets, according to Mike Lindquist, Sun City CAN board member. He said there are about 50 residents who use the tickets on a regular basis.

Providing resources

Northwest Valley Connect was established in 2014 through a partnership between Benevilla and Sun Health to address the lack of public transportation in the Northwest Valley.

In addition to the new Taxi Connect Easy program, NVC offers several other transit options for residents.

The Mobility Volunteer program arranges alternative services to public transit. Volunteers make every attempt to respond to ride requests through the Call-Click-Connect Mobility Center. The center helps people identify available options for their transit needs.

Ride-Connect is a free volunteer driver program that offers rides and door-through-door services to seniors when there are no available services to meet the need.

Group-Connect is for social trips for seniors. It provides group trips to malls, movies, games and other social outings, charging riders a round-trip price that may be as low as $10.

Taxi Connect Free is a free low-income program for those who qualify by living in Sun City West and are under 150% of the poverty level.

NVC, 9945 N. 99th Ave., Peoria, continues to grow as a result of value in the transportation culture of residents seeking transit mobility while attending to health service appointments, grocery shopping and social events, according to Ms. Chandler. NVC services are designed to sustain and enhance lifestyles for individuals and communities, she added.

Call 623-282-9303 or email Ms. Chandler at kchandler@northwestvalleyconnect.org for information about services, donation opportunities and openings to volunteer as a call center representative, driver, marketing and events.

Call 623-282-9300 for transportation options.

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