Memphis Area Transit Authority, Memphis, TN, 12-29-00

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U.S. Department
of Transportation

    400 Seventh St. S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20590

Federal Transit
Administration
December 29, 2000

 

Re: FTA Complaint No. 97255

 

Dear (Name Withheld):

This letter responds to the complaint you filed on behalf of (name withheld) against the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) of Memphis, Tennessee. Please note that for administrative purposes, all of your clients’ complaints have been combined under the FTA Complaint Number 97255.

You have alleged that MATA is in noncompliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA) and/or the Department of Transportation (DOT) implementing regulations at 49 CFR parts 27, 37, and 38. The FTA Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring, which includes ensuring that providers of public transportation properly implement the ADA, the DOT ADA regulations, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In the FTA complaint investigation process, we analyze the complainant’s allegations for possible ADA deficiencies by the transit provider. If we identity what may be a violation, we first attempt to provide technical assistance to address it by assisting the transit provider to comply with the ADA. If FTA cannot resolve apparent violations of the ADA or the DOT ADA regulations by voluntary means, formal enforcement proceedings may be initiated against the public transportation provider that may result in the termination of Federal funds. FTA also may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.

Because of the limitation in resources, the majority of complaint investigations are conducted by telephone and written inquiry. In a few circumstances, where time and resources permit, investigations may be complemented by other means, such as compliance reviews or other on-site action. A finding of no violation of a particular allegation should be understood to apply specifically to the facts and circumstances at issue. Such a determination is not intended to express an opinion as to the overall ADA compliance of that transit property.

The following are the allegations in your complaint that we have accepted for investigation:

  1. MATA’s ADA Complementary Paratransit service, MATAPlus, experiences capacity constraints.
  2. MATAPlus fails to provide next day service and frequently fails to schedule trips within the one-hour window before or after the requested travel time.
  3. MATAPlus vehicles have inoperable lifts and securement devices.
  4. MATA’s fixed route service is not fully accessible.
  5. MATAPlus employees, including drivers, dispatchers, and reservation clerks are improperly trained, rude and insensitive, and provide misinformation and disinformation.
  6. MATAPlus incorrectly records "missed rides" or "no-shows" against riders even after they have made cancellations.
  7. MATA has neglected to take substantive corrective actions in response to consumer complaints about chronic problems with MATAPlus service.

We did not investigate the following allegations: MATA vehicles have inoperable heating systems in cold weather and inoperable air conditioning systems in warm weather; vehicles are not properly cleaned; and exhaust fumes nauseate riders, as there are no requirements in the DOT ADA regulation that govern these issues.

You have alleged that MATA: (1) failed to "create and promulgate the self evaluations, responsible employee policies, grievance procedures, and notices of non-discrimination as required by the Rehabilitation Act regulations appearing at 34 CFR parts 104.6 through 104.8"; and (2) failed to "establish and promulgate self-evaluation, responsible employee policies, grievance procedures, and notice of non-discrimination as required by ADA regulations appearing at 28 CFR parts 35.105 through 35.107." Please note that under 28 CFR section 35.102(b), the Department of Justice’s regulation specifically excludes public transportation from 28 CFR part 35, and 34 CFR is applicable to entities receiving federal assistance from the Department of Education. As such, we will not take any action regarding these two allegations. However, we have affirmed that MATA’s Equal Employment Opportunity program was recently approved by FTA through March 2003.

In response to additional ADA complaints raised by (names withheld), and other information that has come to our attention, FTA recently conducted a compliance assessment of MATA’s ADA Complementary Paratransit service. Many of the issues in your complaint were addressed by this assessment, and you have been provided a copy of the final report that summarizes our findings. Where we made findings of deficiencies, FTA will continue its follow-up with MATA until we determine that the deficiencies noted in the report are corrected. We intend to combine our monitoring efforts on the complaints with those addressing the assessment findings.

In addition, FTA conducted an investigation of the specific complaints you submitted. We informed MATA of your allegations and requested information relating to the complaints; reviewed the information presented by MATA and you; and made a determination on your allegations based on our analysis of the compiled information, including the assessment report, in relation to the DOT ADA regulations. We have restated your allegations followed by our determinations below.

1. You allege that MATA is deficient in the following individual components of the capacity constraints requirement: trip denials, on-time performance, missed trips, and excessively long trips.

The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR section 37.131(f)(1)(2)(3) state that:

(1)  The entity shall not limit the availability of complementary paratransit service to ADA paratransit eligible individuals by any of the following:

  1. Restriction on the number of trips an individual will be provided;
  2. Waiting lists for access to the service; or
  3. Any operational pattern or practice that significantly limits the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons. (i) Such patterns or practices include, but are not limited to the following:

A. Substantial numbers of significantly untimely pickups for initial or return trips;
B.  Substantial numbers of trip denials or missed trips;
C.  Substantial numbers of trips with excessive trip lengths.

Capacity constraints were the main focus of the FTA assessment of MATAPlus. The following information is based on data gathered from the assessment.

Trip Denials

MATA claims that it has a zero percent denial rate for ADA Complementary Paratransit trips. Direct observation of 100 calls over a three day period in February 2000, confirmed that during the observation period, no trips were denied, and no trips were negotiated for more than one hour before or after the requested time. However, a review of previously recorded reservation call tapes for several days in January 2000, showed that requests for next-day service were often denied or negotiated for times outside of peak hours.

Anecdotally, the ten riders/advocates who were interviewed during the assessment seemed to agree that service had improved over the past two years and that they had no difficulty in reserving a ride if they call more than one day in advance.

In its response to the compliance assessment, MATA stated that it has ordered 13 new vehicles and hired two new drivers which should increase capacity at peak hours. In addition, the scheduler has been relieved of reservation duties to allow more attention to creating schedules.

A memorandum dated March 7, 2000, was sent to MATA staff stating the following:

All reservationists will inform passengers they can make reservations the day before travel is required and up to three days in advance. Under no conditions will passengers be denied a reservation the day before travel.

We believe that the actions MATA has taken to alleviate trip denials are steps in the right direction. Through quarterly reports, we will continue to monitor MATA’s trip denial rate and next day service statistics until we determine that the deficiencies in these areas are corrected.

On-time Performance

MATA’s stated goal for on-time performance is 98%. Our assessment validated MATA’s on-time performance rate of an average of 92.5% for the six months preceding the assessment. MATA defines on-time performance as arriving up to 15 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time and no more than 30 minutes past the scheduled pick-up time.

Scheduled time is not necessarily the same time that is negotiated with riders, and this appears to be a source of miscommunication and a perception of a low on-time performance rate for many riders. Because MATA’s method of recording reservations can involve several steps, not all reservations are entered into the computer as they are received. When they do get logged into the computer, the exact time may not be available, and changes are made to adjust the negotiated time to the scheduled time. In addition, the original requested time is not recorded for comparison to the scheduled time. Although MATA’s policy is to call riders if their ride has been adjusted by more than 15 minutes, in reality, this does not consistently happen. This can result in a ride being on-time using MATA’s criteria, but late according to the rider. For instance, if the rider requests a ride for 2:00 p.m. and the negotiated time is 3:00 p.m., MATA may adjust the time to 3:30 p.m. If the vehicle arrives at 4:00 p.m., it is on-time according to MATA, but the rider may consider it to be at least a half-hour late and two hours later than they originally requested. This habit of changing scheduled times without notifying riders appears to be a common complaint about MATA.

MATA’s policy for changing scheduled times contributes not only to poor customer relations, but also to an inaccurate denial rate for several reasons. In general, we believe that reservations should be input at the same time they are received to allow for a "first come, first serve" basis. In many cases, riders are unaware of the adjusted scheduled times and are left waiting for a longer period of time than necessary. If the "negotiated" time is outside of the one-hour allowable window before or after the desired travel time, it should be counted as a trip denial.

MATA intends to address on-time performance through different avenues. It has increased a part time reservation clerk to a full time position so that more reservations can be input at the time of the call. A new telephone system has been set up that will allow persons on hold to be queued in order of their calls. Additional vehicles have been purchased to allow for increased capacity at peak hours. It plans to change its scheduling software to reflect the rider’s original scheduled pick-up time, the appointment time, and to monitor early pick-ups as well as late pick-ups. A memorandum was issued on March 7, 2000, to "MATA Staff" that states the following:

Passengers must be called back if their pick-up time is changed 15 minutes or more. All staff members must make every effort to contact passengers to advise them of change and give them the chance to accept or decline.

We believe that MATA’s implementation of this memorandum will resolve many of the on-time performance complaints, but we will continue to monitor this issue until we are satisfied that MATA’s implementation of the above actions correct the deficiencies.

Missed Trips

There appear to be a couple of causes that contribute to the number of "missed trips" by MATA. First, as addressed in the assessment report, MATA did not have the tools in place to efficiently record reservations. Staffing had been inadequate; the telephone system was outdated; voice mail was not answered promptly; and the reservation takers did not routinely read back the information to confirm the trip request. The second cause may be due to MATA’s rescheduling rides without notifying riders as discussed in the above paragraph. Although the issue of missed trips was not specifically addressed by the assessment, we have included a reporting requirement to address it in our follow-up with MATA.

Excessively Long Trips

MATA’s standard for an ADA Complementary Paratransit trip length is two times the time it would take to travel the same trip on the fixed route, given the fact that ADA Complementary Paratransit is a multiple passenger, shared ride service. The assessment showed an improvement from September 1999 to January 2000, in the incidence of excessively long trips from 8.2% to 1.2%. Although the report makes recommendations for improvements in this area, we do not consider it to be a deficiency or a violation of the DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR section 37.131(f).

2. MATAPlus violates 49 CFR section 37.131(b) by its failure to provide next day service, and by frequently failing to schedule trips within the one-hour window before or after the desired travel time.

The DOT ADA regulation at 49 CFR section 37.131(b) and (b)(2) states:

(b) Response Time. The entity shall schedule and provide paratransit service to any ADA paratransit eligible person at any requested time on a particular day in response to a request for service made the previous day. …

(2) The entity may negotiate pickup times with the individual, but the entity shall not require an ADA paratransit eligible individual to schedule a trip to begin more than one hour before or after the individual’s desired departure time.

Next Day Service

During the assessment, direct observation of the telephone reservation process was conducted over three days. Of the one hundred calls observed, none were denied or negotiated outside of the one-hour window. However, the team also reviewed tapes that were made of reservation telephone calls in January 2000, and found that requests for next-day service were often denied or negotiated for times outside of peak hours. Conversations from these tapes indicated that the reservation clerks were aware of a capacity constraint in this area.

MATA admits to having peak hour capacity constraints. It was scheduled to receive 14 new paratransit vehicles this summer to meet this demand. Reservation clerks were instructed by memorandum dated March 7, 2000, that:

All reservationists will inform passengers they can make reservations the day before travel is required and up to three days in advance. Under no conditions will passengers be denied a reservation the day before travel.

We will continue to monitor MATA’s progress, through quarterly reporting, in providing next day service until we are satisfied that it is meeting demand.

Negotiation Outside of the One Hour Window

The taped conversations confirmed that some trips have been negotiated outside of the one-hour window. Any trips scheduled outside of the one-hour window should be counted as one denial for a one way trip, or as two denials for a round trip. As MATA reports zero trip denials, this apparently has not been properly recorded. We have asked MATA to correct its reporting procedures to reflect this. We will continue to monitor MATA’s progress through quarterly reporting in these areas of concern.

3. MATAPlus vehicles have inoperable lifts and securement devices.

The DOT ADA regulations state at 49 CFR sections 37.161 (a) through (c):

(a) Public and private entities providing transportation services shall maintain in operative condition those features of facilities and vehicles that are required to make the vehicles and facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. These features include, but are not limited to, lifts and other means of access to vehicles, securement devices, …

(b) Accessibility features shall be repaired promptly if they are damaged or out of order. When an accessibility feature is out of order, the entity shall take reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities who would otherwise use the feature.

(c) This section does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs.

Our team observed morning "pull-out" procedures one day during the assessment. Drivers performed a pre-trip inspection and reported any vehicles that were unsuitable for service. Of the 38 vehicles available, two were pulled for repairs as a result of operator inspections. Although MATA appears to have policies and procedures in place to address this issue, we note that a number of complaints have allegations regarding this issue. We will address this issue further with MATA under the umbrella of driver training.

4. MATA’s fixed route service is not fully accessible.

The DOT ADA regulation requires that new vehicles purchased or leased for use on fixed route service after August 25, 1990, must be accessible in accordance with 49 CFR section 37.71. However, there is no requirement that existing non-accessible vehicles be taken out of service nor that the buses must be retrofitted with equipment to make them accessible. Nor is there a timeline by which all fixed route buses must be accessible. It was anticipated that during this phase-in period, transportation services to persons with disabilities would be supplemented by ADA Complementary Paratransit service.

5. MATAPlus employees, including drivers, dispatchers, and reservation clerks are improperly trained, rude and insensitive, and provide misinformation and disinformation.

The DOT ADA regulation requires that transit providers educate personnel to work with persons with disabilities and to operate accessibility features. The regulations state at 49 CFR section 37.173:

Each public or private entity which operates a fixed route or demand responsive system shall ensure that personnel are trained to proficiency, as appropriate to their duties, so that they operate vehicles and equipment safely and properly assist and treat individuals with disabilities who use the service in a respectful and courteous way, with appropriate attention to the difference among individuals with disabilities.

The documentation in the complaints that you provided alleges drivers who do not secure wheelchairs, or secure them improperly, and rude and insensitive employees. Although MATA provided documentation that all of its employees are trained as required by the DOT ADA regulation, we acknowledge that providing the training does not ensure that the lessons taught will be properly implemented. In addition, we have noted several discrepancies in MATA’s training manuals that we will ask MATA to correct. These issues will be addressed with MATA in our monitoring requirements.

We recommend that you work directly with MATA to address any future complaints against specific employees, and include sufficient information regarding the time, date, name, route number, and details about the incident so that the employee and the incident can be identified. Complaints should be directed to the Information Center Supervisor at 901-522-9175.

6. MATAPlus incorrectly records "missed rides" or no-shows against riders even after they have made cancellations.

This appears to be a result of MATAPlus’ inadequate telephone system, in which voice mail messages were not promptly retrieved and reservation clerks were responsible for answering all types of calls rather than just taking reservations. We anticipate that this alleged problem area will improve with MATA’s increased staffing and new telephone system. We will monitor MATA’s progress through quarterly reporting requirements.

7. MATA has neglected to take substantive corrective actions in response to consumer complaints about chronic problems with MATAPlus service.

The documentation in our files indicates that MATA responded in writing to many of the complaints filed by your clients. While we recognize that this does not necessarily mean that "substantive corrective actions" were taken, we do not believe that customer complaints were ignored. We are convinced, based upon the results of our investigation as well as the assessment process, that at this time, MATA is making good faith efforts to correct the identified deficiencies.

We will continue to follow MATA’s progress until we are satisfied that it has corrected the deficiencies found during the assessment as well as the infractions noted during our investigation of this complaint. We appreciate your diligence and advocacy on behalf of your clients. If you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact me at 1-202-366-0808, or at my electronic mail address: cheryl.hershey@dot.gov. Please include the FTA complaint number on any correspondence with this office.

 

Sincerely,
/signed/
Cheryl L. Hershey
ADA Group Leader
Office of Civil Rights