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New transit service for disabled gets off to bumpy start


Hundreds of disabled Marylanders have been left waiting -- some for hours at a time in the cold or rain -- by late or missing vans operating under a new state contract.

Disabled people and their advocates say that spotty transit service in metropolitan Baltimore has placed many blind, paralyzed, sick or elderly riders in potentially dangerous situations in the past month.

Some have missed kidney dialysis or other crucial medical appointments, have been unable to take medicine on time or have been forced to wait outside for long periods, risking health and safety, they say.

"This is an accident waiting to happen," said Nancy Weiss, executive director of TASH, a disability advocacy organization in Towson.

George Rice, who has quadriplegia, said he has spent more than an hour in the dark and cold in downtown Baltimore waiting for vans that are often late. "I have to worry about my safety out there," Rice said.

The MTA said it is working to correct serious start-up problems experienced by contractor Metro Access of Maryland, based in Prince George's County.

On Jan. 26, Metro Access began a three-year, $13.9 million contract with the Maryland Mass Transit Administration to supply door-to-door transportation for as many as 10,000 disabled residents of Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

On average, about 600 people each day use Metro Access, which underbid the previous contractor, Yellow Transportation, by $6 million. The MTA provides bus service to another 280 disabled people daily.

Metro Access' performance has gradually improved, particularly Monday and Tuesday when it came close to meeting its contractual requirement of 95 percent on-time service, said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown.

The MTA also has increased its own bus service for the disabled rTC by 10 percent and has dedicated three staff members to overseeing the contract, he said. Metro Access, in turn, has added 30 to 35 more drivers.

The new contractor's performance "is barely acceptable," said Sam Carnaggio, MTA director of transit operations. "I'm not happy with it, and I'm looking for improvement."

The MTA may assess penalties against the contractor, he said.

Metro Access' president, James J. McLary, said its start-up was "very difficult."

He said, "We have some reasons [for the problems], but we have no excuses."

McLary said the MTA contract is Metro Access' largest for such services. His company had hired "green drivers" who did not know their way around Baltimore, causing delays, he said.

Asked to rate his company's performance, he replied, "We wouldn't have made it out of grade school at first, but right now we're at a C+ to B. We're still not where we want to be, but we have improved substantially."

During the first week, on-time performance was 30 percent, Brown said.

Several customers said they missed one or more days of work -- and lost pay -- because Metro Access vans never arrived.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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