By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If you want to – or have to – let someone else do the driving, you have more options than you might realize.
That was the theme of a recent forum presented by the West Seattle Transportation Coalition. WSTC put together a panel of representatives from advocacy groups and transportation providers who presented information, and answered questions, about many of those options.
It’s a money matter as well as a mobility matter:
Not driving can save you upward of $9,000 a year, noted the first to speak, Rachel Lobo, education and outreach manager for the statewide advocacy/policy-making nonprofit Transportation Choices Coalition. That savings applies even to those without access to senior/disabled reduced fares, Lobo noted. For seniors, transportation alternatives are often safer, she added – driving is dangerous enough even without the elevated risk faced by older drivers, particularly past 75, especially once they start facing health challenges from injuries to vision impairment to side effects of medications.
Another benefit of alternative transportation: Ensuring that opportunities for social interaction – getting to the library, the community center, etc. – aren’t curtailed.
Second to speak: Robert Bloomfeld from the Alliance of People with disAbilities. They are case managers and peer advocates, a group that’s been around for more than 40 years. They have lobbied for lifts in buses and curb cuts on streets, for example. The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal but includes local protections via Title 2, and accessible transportation – from the sidewalk, from the street, from the house. Tough in Seattle since “we’re hilly,” as he observed.
Both private and public organizations are required to comply with ADA, he said. And it’s important to know your rights – for example, a taxi can’t refuse you service because you have a wheelchair. “If somebody denies you the right to get in a taxi, all you need is its medallion number” – notify the city/county.
He mentioned paratransit (“those little Access buses”) – King County will tell you they don’t do door-to-door, but federal law says they have to, Bloomfeld said. But paratransit can’t go into an area without fixed-route transit, he noted. For example, he lives in Snoqualmie Valley, which is 13 miles away from Sound Transit service, so there’s a local shuttle in the area.
Next to speak, Mark Nash from Metro Transit. (Here’s their online info about paratransit.) He said that one of their paratransit drivers does travel training – showing people who are interested how to use the system. If you qualify by income, you are eligible to purchase half-price taxi scrip. They have the nation’s biggest vanpool service. The ride-match program helps people with that “first mile/last mile” getting to/from the bus conundrum, and they’re talking with Lyft about that kind of program.
As for regular Metro “fixed-route” service, the system has more than 200 routes, and fares ranging from $1 to $3.25 – the “fare flattening” (announced in August) is still in the works, and the high end will eventually be $2.75. Metro buses are lift-equipped. Paratransit fares, he said, are $1.25. There’s a regional reduced fare permit that can cost you as little as 75 cents. Back to paratransit – all trips are valued equally, so they’re supposed to treat you the same whether you’re going to dialysis or going to a casino (except in rare situations like severe weather with limited service, in which case they will prioritize). Paratransit is scheduled service – you have to book it in effect. There are eligibility criteria, Nash said (here’s a self-assessment that can help you decide if you meet them). Plus: “We not only offer door to door, we offer hand to hand.”
Questions Nash was asked included, “How much time in advance does a person (have to book paratransit)?” Answer: At least one day ahead – right now they’re working one to seven days in advance.
Next question: What’s the service called? Reply: Metro Access. How do you access it? Call and they’ll work with you about whether you’re eligible. Once you’re certified as eligible, you can use the services.
Next to speak: Walt Washington of Sound Generations, where he’s the director of transportation programs. One program involves volunteer drivers – that classification also includes the rider’s friends and family. If you don’t have a network of four or five people to call on, SG asks, how can they help you build that network? They prioritize people who are going to medical facilities. But they’d also like to diversify so they can help people get other places – supermarkets, restaurants, etc. Eligibility for use of these services: 60+, and/or disabled. They prefer to have about a week notice. They’re trying to get a younger group of volunteers “to invest in (seniors).”
It’s tough to work on when to give up the car keys – they want people to know about options. Another one: They have 45 access vans for Hyde Shuttles, which is for 55+/disabled, and has lifts. Drivers are not just drivers, but also customer-service providers. You have to be able to make it to the van; they do go down some narrow roads and hard-to-reach areas. (Read more about Hyde Shuttles here.)
Question: Are volunteer drivers using their own vehicles, and can they stay until the rider is done with their appointment? In both cases, yes, although for the second, it’s “limited support,” he said – the driver won’t be able to carry you to the car, for example.
How many volunteers are in the SG program? 264. But they hope to grow that number by a third. Five volunteers are over 90; 100 over 75. “My [younger] generation’s not doing our part!” he exclaimed. Volunteers all have insurance, and the agency itself has some. Who pays the costs – gas, tolls, etc.? “We have some very generous volunteers.” The service is currently daytime-only, he said.
That means assuring that people “have access to transportation for where they want to go.” They “work hard on the education piece” to ensure people know what’s available. They’re part of a coalition (most of its members had representatives at this forum). They try to evaluate where there are gaps.
What service is meant to help get low-income people to their medical appointments? Brittany Krein from Hopelink explained that they have several options – gas cards that can be made available to friends/family driving you somewhere for reimbursement; if you are able to get to the bus and take it, they’ll get you tickets or ORCA cards, retroactively. There’s also door-to-door pickup – maybe a taxi or a bus.
Krein also talked about their education/outreach – findaride.org can help you. Follow that link and choose the area you’re traveling from (Hopelink handles the four major metro counties, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, and you’ll see there’s a Seattle-specific option) and you’ll get a list of what’s available to you.
The final speaker was Jennifer Bergstrom with Swedish Optimal Aging. They work on “care coordination.” Say you need to schedule Uber or Lyft – but you would have to use an app, and that’s not something you do. Call Optimal Aging, and they can help get you where you need to go. They can also assign someone to help you get where you need to go and maybe even be a second set of ears during an appointment you’re going to – these are volunteers but they’re licensed and bonded. They prefer 72 hours notice for that kind of service request, but they’ve turned around much faster.
The caregiver service starts at about $15/hour – that’s probably for someone who’s working for you full time, and it would likely cost more for someone you just need to have come over for an hour or so. Fees vary for the transportation service. Call and talk about what you need.
One final round of questions: Deb Barker of WSTC, who moderated the forum, asked who the Hyde Shuttle is named after. Answer: Lillian Hyde, who bequeathed some money to run the service, which is free (though donations are welcome) – scroll down this page for the backstory.
Can Metro drivers get more training to understand more about, for example, people with invisible disabilities? Metro has a lot of new drivers, King County’s Chris Arkills noted, and they’ll be working on that, but riders should help out too. Metro is considering a civility campaign, in fact, he says.
Wondering about how to determine the accessibility of various spots around the city? Check out this map, pointed out by a Hopelink rep – accessmap.io.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition usually meets on fourth Thursdays but because of the Thanksgiving holiday, will meet this month on the fifth Thursday, November 30th, 6:30 pm at Neighborhood House High Point (6400 Sylvan Way SW). Main topics (updated): Washington State Ferries and Sound Transit light rail. All welcome.