By Rusty Bradshaw
Sun City Community Assistance Network officials were concerned changes in the Dial-A-Ride system being researched by Valley Metro and Maricopa County officials could effect 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 other life-essential trips. Special needs riders — frequent doctor appointments — get $100 and extra special needs — dialysis, etc. — get $150.
However, Sun City CAN officials were given an unofficial heads up a few weeks ago that changes are being formulated for the paratransit program, according to Mike Lindquist, CAN board member.
“We were told that if people were not ADA certified in Sun City they would not be eligible for Dial-A-Ride,” he said. “The only exception would be those already on the program until an unspecified date in the future.”
Lynn Rhode, CAN executive director, said the word officials received was that there would be even more changes, but no details were provided.Valley Metro officials confirmed program changes are being contemplated, but provided few details.
“Like many of the communities where Valley Metro provides paratransit across the region, Maricopa County is experiencing increasing demand and cost of service,” Brittany Hoffman, Valley Metro spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement. “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 added Valley Metro officials expect to share their proposals for service in the summer. But no changes will take place before they engage in a campaign to educate the public and a public comment period, Ms. Hoffman said.
“Changes will not be implemented until at least October,” she said. “Before that happens, we will conduct public outreach throughout the county, and we will accept public comments — just as we do for any proposed changes to our service.”
She also 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. Mr. Lindquist said there are about 50 residents who use the tickets on a regular basis.
In the event Sun City CAN services are effected by Valley Metro changes, officials began researching options. Mr. Lindquist said two alternatives were suggested, one from Northwest Valley Connect and another through a national ride-share service.
The Connect option uses its volunteer drivers to provide rides for clients. The downside is that rides cannot be guaranteed.
“One rider we talked to said she has a standing daily appointment, but Connect’s volunteer drivers don’t show up 2-3 days per week, leaving her to make other arrangements,” Mr. Lindquist said.
The other option is using Lyft through a program similar to one subsidized by the Sun City West Foundation. However, the Lyft rates are higher than paratransit, an average of about $10 one way, with an additional administrative fee of $2, according to Mr. Lindquist. Paratransit rides are provided at a one-way cost of $4.
For riders using the Connect option, they must make the appointment five days in advance and with Lyft two days in advance, according to Mr. Lindquist.
“Valley Metro’s program only takes riders within the Sun City boundaries, but the Lyft program will take riders to locations in the Sun City area,” he said.
Valley Metro officials also have an alternative for Sun City riders.
“We are working with a number of communities to implement RideChoice as a means of increasing the cost effectiveness of paratransit services for both municipalities and customers,” Ms. Hoffman said.
Qualified county residents can take up to 50 RideChoice trips per month for $3 for up to an 8-mile trip. Service is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
“This is slightly less than the $4 that Dial-a-Ride costs in the Sun Cities area,” Ms. Hoffman said.
RideChoice is for ADA paratransit certified people with disabilities and seniors age 65 and older who reside in participating communities. Valley Metro RideChoice now has easier access to a larger network of transportation providers, including Lyft, taxicabs and other wheelchair-accessible vehicles. RideChoice is available in the Sun Cities, according to the Valley Metro website. Call 602-716-2111.
There is no requirement to book ahead for RideChoice. In keeping with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Arizona state law, service animals are welcome, at no additional charge.
Applications for RideChoice are available by calling 602-716-2100.