TRIPIL plans meeting on transportation problems

August 12, 2014
First Transit driver Sam Miller lowers a ramp to allow riders using wheelchairs to access a Washington Rides van on Friday as he prepared to pick up passengers at Washington Senior Citizens Center. - Linda M. Ritzer / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A disabled Washington Rides passenger being stranded for three hours last week until she was picked up for a trip to her home was not an isolated incident, said a representative for Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living.

TRIPIL’s transportation task force plans the latest in a series of public meetings Aug. 25 at its building, 69 E. Beau St., Washington. Those attending the meeting do not need to be members of TRIPIL. The meeting for the ridership is scheduled from 1 to 2 p.m. and representatives of the Washington Transportation Authority and its contractor, First Transit, were invited to attend the second half of the meeting from 2 to 3 p.m.

“If members of Tri-County Patriots are having these problems, everyone’s having these problems,” said Daniel Kleinmann, TRIPIL membership director, explaining why he’d like to see the general public attend. “Any user of Washington Rides can address the issues.”

TRIPIL hosted meetings regarding transportation each month this year. “In the winter, consumers had issues with transportation and being left in the cold,” Kleinmann said.

“We have enough consumers who want to get together and present their concerns to Washington Rides and First Transit. We’ve been asking consumers to keep a journal to track when these incidents took place each month. Mornings seem to be OK, but during returns in the afternoon, the drivers are running out of time.”

TRIPIL representatives met with Sheila Gombita, executive director of Washington County Transportation Authority, before the transportation agency implemented its new software package at the end of May. After a two-month break-in period, TRIPIL hoped the system would be running smoothly. Both Gombita and Tim Mullen, district manager for First Transit, were invited to the second hour of the Aug. 25 meeting.

Lisa Foltz, 55, of Washington, uses a manual wheelchair to get around while her power-operated chair is being repaired. After accompanying her octogenarian aunt who has Alzheimer’s disease to a doctor’s appointment, the women were dropped off by First Transit at Evergreen Personal Care Home on North Main Street in Washington, where the aunt lives. Foltz planned to spend about an hour there, but she then needed a three-block ride to her home at Washington Arbors, North College Street. She waited for Washington Rides for three hours. She did not receive a call back about the status of her trip. When she was finally picked up by a van equipped with a wheelchair lift, it was by Tri-County Access of Donora, which is based 28 1/2 miles away.

Foltz pays a fare each time she uses the paratransit service, which is subsidized by state and federal dollars. Gombita said Washington Rides has an answering service that should have passed along information about the stranded Foltz to Washington Rides employee on call.

The Washington Transportation Authority contracted with First Transit to transport passengers since 2003. Its service area now encompasses about 60 percent of the county while Tri-County Access of Donora covers the remainder. Tri-County Access has operated its business more efficiently since the transportation authority instituted electronic manifests with GPS mapping software, Gombita said, but she chided First Transit for being understaffed.

A spokeswoman for the Cincinnati-based company said “to improve these services, First Transit is in the process of providing additional drivers” for Washington Rides’ services on Friday, when Foltz’s problem came to light.

TRIPIL, a private, nonprofit organization since 1990, has been as an advocate for the disabled.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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