The number of people with disabilities requesting transportation assistance from the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s (METRO’s) METROLift services has grown significantly in recent years. This increase has prompted the transit agency to consider a change in its paratransit policies and practices to balance quality of service with financial sustainability. Researchers with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Transit Mobility Program recently helped the agency create a first-of-its-kind community outreach program called METROLift Moving Forward.
With the goal of increasing public involvement, the researchers developed a way to engage members of the community and document their opinions in a format that could be shared with the METRO board of directors and the public.
“The outreach effort was a multi-part process that included workshops that sought feedback from the public, especially from the METROLift riders themselves,” says TTI Research Scientist Linda Cherrington, who manages TTI’s Transit Mobility Program. “The feedback is essential for METRO to balance its desire to continue providing quality transportation services for METROLift riders while meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).”
After conducting a review of other large cities with paratransit services, TTI researchers discovered the industry did not have a data collection tool for obtaining community feedback. In collaboration with METRO, Cherrington and TTI Associate Research Scientist Suzie Edrington developed a workbook completed by more than 300 participants attending 12 workshops.
“The participant’s answers and discussions will play a major role in policy decisions going forward,” Edrington explains. “The workshops explored all areas of METROLift, including rider eligibility, its fare structure, ADA regulations and the program’s on-time performance.”
Results of those workshops made up the report called Workshop and Community Feedback Outcomes, which is posted on METRO’s website. The researchers believe that the workshop workbook could be a useful tool for other transit agencies seeking input from its riders.
“I think it’s clear that METRO wanted to make sure that the public had a chance to be part of the process, and with these workshops, I think the citizens felt that their opinions matter,” Edrington says.