2011-03-10 / Front Page

No-shows for public rides are costing city cash

By Michelle Knight

No-shows and last-minute cancellations cost the city’s Senior Dial-A-Ride and Americans with Disabilities Act transit programs an average of $150,000 a year, according to a recent city report.

To try to curb the costly behavior, the City Council on Feb. 22 approved a new policy that would establish consequences for riders who frequently don’t show up at their requested pickup times or who give less than two hours’ notice when they cancel.

Starting April 1, seniors and disabled individuals who routinely bail out on ride reservations could see their riding privileges suspended—as long as 30 days for the most severe offenders.

Unlike most transit agencies, Thousand Oaks is without an adopted no-show and late cancellation policy to address issues with riders that make reservations and do not cancel them in a timely manner.

“I think this is a smart, prudent thing to do,” said transit director Mike Houser.

Even so, by no means will the department suspend a senior or disabled person from riding transit services for medical reasons, he said.

Because most riders show up for their rides or cancel well in advance,“they’re never going to see an impact,” Houser said.

Everyone has a change of plans or may forget about a ride reservation now and then. The new policy is meant to change the behavior of the few dozen habitual offenders who are hurting the service’s costeffectiveness, he said.

Senior Dial- A- Ride— provided to those 62 and older since 1998—and ADA transit charge $1.50 each way. Both services are available seven days a week within city boundaries. Transportation outside Thousand Oaks city limits is available to ADA transit riders for an additional charge.

Riders of both services can make standing reservations up to six months in advance or call for a ride as late as two hours before pickup time.

About 65 percent of the city’s $3.2-million annual transit budget is spent on the Senior Dial- A-Ride and paratransit services for the disabled, which many use to get to and from important hospital visits.

In 2009-10, the two services provided 81,000 rides from a fleet of 18 vehicles.

Of those rides, about 4 percent, or 3,200, were unnecessary because the person canceled when the driver arrived or less than two hours before pickup time, according to city findings.

The city spends $22 for each ride, used or not. It costs some cities as much as $40 or more to provide the same service, Houser said.

The new policy, which is still being finalized, addresses users who establish a pattern in a given time period of not following the rules.

If the pattern persists after 90 days of phone reminders and written notices from the department, the person’s riding privileges could be curtailed or suspended for seven days. Two consecutive seven-day suspensions could result in a 30-day suspension.

Houser said he doubts a situation would ever develop to that point the department would have to take such action.

“It would have to be such egregious behavior for us to have to warrant a suspension of that level,” Houser said.

At a time when ridership is rising and budgets are tightening, the city’s transportation department must make the best use of its resources, Houser said. This fiscal year, the number of Senior Dial-A-Ride and ADA rides is projected to climb to 88,000, and the cost per ride expected to creep up to $23.

The late cancellation and no-show policy isn’t meant to penalize anyone but is a means to “educate” riders to plan their schedule better, the transit director said.

David Grimm, a member of the Council on Aging who’s worked with Houser on transportation matters, agreed, saying the policy isn’t meant to be cruel.

But habitual no-shows and people who cancel rides late out of negligence or apathy can cause the system to back up and make other riders late, he said.

“I know how lenient Mike (Houser) is; I know how lenient the council tries to be. . . . They’re not trying to be arbitrary,” Grimm said. “It’s time to be respectful of everyone who utilizes the system.”

The city is committed to helping seniors, Houser said. The City Council in January approved extending Senior Dial-A-Ride and paratransit service hours for four years, he pointed out. On April 1 both services will run weekdays 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The schedule will be in effect through fiscal year 2013-2014.

The cost for the four- year extension is $ 485,000. Two federal grants will cover $272,000 of the expense.

Houser wil l discuss transportation changes with the Council on Aging at 1 p.m. Wed., April 6 in the board room on the third floor of city hall.

The public is invited. A light lunch and an opportunity to meet the Council on Aging commissioners will begin at noon.

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