June 8, 2009 Some Dial-A-Ride users left waiting With a funding decrease, service has had to prioritize rides By Doug Blackburn DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER Mycell Armington leads a busy life. She works at the Social Security Administration as a contact representative, a job she's held for the past 31 years. She's a worship leader in her church, and in her spare time she visits correctional facilities to preach to inmates. But Armington is finding Leon County considerably more difficult to navigate in the past two months. Armington, who is legally blind, lives just north of the city limits. She relies on Dial-A-Ride's community transportation program for almost all of her trips. But due to a decrease in state funding - compounded by an increase in ridership - Dial-A-Ride has been forced for the first time to institute a priority system for providing rides. Medical trips are the No. 1 priority, followed by employment-education and grocery shopping. "It's gotten much worse," Armington said. "It's totally bumped people off of any going to church. It's considered a social activity, instead of spiritual or mental-health enrichment. "It's taken away my freedoms," she added. "It's a major issue." Armington isn't the only one who's struggling to cope with the new priority system at Dial-A-Ride, which she has taken to calling "Dial-A-Wait." The priority system went into effect at the end of March. Dorothy Martin, who lives just east of the city limits, is frustrated that she can no longer get rides for classes at the Senior Center. "I can't even go to the grocery store when I want to now," Martin said. "I don't have a life now that they've cut the service back so much. I can't go anywhere anymore." Ronald Garrison, executive director at StarMetro, said he empathizes with riders who consider the new priority system an inconvenience. Almost all recreational trips have been eliminated, he said, because of the decrease in funding from the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD), the state agency housed within the Department of Transportation. "People need to be talking to their legislators to look at different ways to provide the funding," Garrison said. Leon County's CTD funding for the current fiscal year was decreased by about $19,000, from $446,373 to $427,768, according to Donna Peacock, StarMetro's superintendent of paratransit operations. Meanwhile, ridership is up significantly. For the first six months of the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, there were 109,836 riders, compared to 96,329 the previous year, Peacock said. This includes the bus-pass program. "We've run this (paratransit) program five years, and never had to put a priority policy in place," Peacock said. "It's sort of come to a head now. "Some of that may be due to the economy and more folks needing transportation. I don't know what else to do. If there's no money, there's no money." Bobby Jerningan, executive director of CDT, the state agency, acknowledges that the "system is spread a little thin right now." "We've had to dial back on our expenditures for next year," Jernigan said. "It is a hardship on those individuals who have grown to depend on this transportation service. It's a major deal." It's certainly a major deal for Armington, Martin and others. Armington said she can't afford to pay $35 to $40 for a cab, when Dial-A-Ride costs her $2.50. "I lead a very active and normal life and I intend to do so for the rest of my life," Armington said. "But this has made it really difficult. "I'm also afraid of speaking out, because I may be a candidate for retaliation." Check out the TABI resource web page at http://acorange.home.comcast.net/TABI to unsubscribe send a message, containing a subject line of the word unsubscribe, to tabi-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx if you'd like to unsubscribe you can do so through the freelists.org web interface, or by sending an email to the address tabi-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject.