A policy to curb transit service abuse at MetroAccess, the ADA paratransit program for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, has proven effective since its implementation in September.
More than 25% of trip requests in the first quarter of fiscal year 2003 resulted in no-shows or late cancellations, prompting MetroAccess to address the situation. According to Avon Mackel, director of the office of MetroAccess service, the new policy was developed to target customers who show a pattern of abuse against the system.
Customers who miss scheduled trips without a valid reason face a period of suspended service based on the number of violations they have incurred. A customer is considered a no-show when a vehicle arrives on time and waits 10 minutes without anyone appearing. A late cancellation is any trip canceled after 4:30 p.m. one day before the scheduled trip.
Three no-shows or six late cancellations in a rolling 30-day period result in a two-week suspension of service. A second violation within 12 months leads to a three-week suspension, and subsequent violations result in a suspension of service for four weeks.
Mackel said customers have responded positively to the new policy and the number of incidents began to drop even before the official effective date. “Maybe people didn’t understand how much it drains our resources to plan routes and drive to pick-up locations where no one is waiting,” he said. “We believe that people want to do right if they know what they should do.”
MetroAccess still contacts customers who fail to show for a pick-up to find out why they missed the trip. Reasonable explanations, such as family emergencies or health problems, are not recorded as violations.
“We still err on the side of the customer,” said Mackel. “This is not designed to be punitive, it’s intended to modify the behavior of customers who repeatedly abuse the service.”
All riders have the right to appeal before any suspension goes into effect. All vehicles operated by MetroAccess have a GPS tracking system used to substantiate where a vehicle was at a specific time. Drivers who claim to be at a location where they were not face stiff penalties.
New customers are informed of the policy right away to avoid confusion. Responsible customers also benefit because the 10-minute wait time for riders who do not show up has been a source of frustration for those already on the vehicle, according to Mackel.
This problem is not exclusive to Washington, D.C., and Mackel said that many other transit agencies have adopted similar solutions. Making customers aware of the ramifications of no-shows and late cancellations can significantly change their behavior, MetroAccess found.