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Gilbert to vote on cutting down service for paratransit program

(Valley Metro Photo)

PHOENIX — No car, no bus, stranded.

That’s what dozens of people with disabilities and elderly folks fear may become their reality if Gilbert votes to reduce their paratransit service to the federal regulation minimum requirement.

“Frankly, they’re taking away the autonomy of these people,” Jessica Falatyn, who works with adults with disabilities, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “They’re taking away their personal freedom. They’re taking away their incentive to work and to become the most valuable members of society.”

Fatalyn’s two foster daughters both use paratransit to get to and from their jobs. She says these restrictions add yet another barrier to their independence.

Currently 383 adults in Gilbert actively use paratransit services. The proposed service reduction would only provide paratransit for those within 3/4 of a mile of a fixed bus route, cutting 136 people off from the service.

Ellen Kennedy, Gilbert’s transportation planning manager, said that the city is proposing the service reduction in order to keep the service around longer.

“The Town of Gilbert was already operating at a shortfall this fiscal year to run the program,” Kennedy said.

However, as Falatyn’s husband, Richard Dale, pointed out, Gilbert as a town is currently operating on their largest approved budget.

“Of all the towns, Gilbert is quiet an affluent one,” he said. “If you look at their budget this year they have a $1.05 billion budget and they’re saying that people with disabilities and the elderly are just not a component they’re worried about.”

Kennedy added that all residents can still use RideChoice services.

While paratransit is operated exclusively by Valley Metro, RideChoice is effectively a government subsidized rideshare and includes Uber, taxicabs and other wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Kennedy noted several benefits to using RideChoice over paratransit.

“RideChoice offers same day service, so you don’t have to plan in advance if you need to make a trip,” she said. “Whereas paratransit you do have to have at least a 24 hour in advance reservation.”

Paratransit is also a shared ride service, versus RideChoice, which also allows users to ride on their own.

However, the cost of RideChoice is substantially higher than that of paratransit.

RideChoice costs $3 for trips up to eight miles with an additional $2 for each additional mile compared to paratransit’s flat fee of $4.

There will be an informational meeting Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert. More information is also available on Valley Metro’s website.

The town council will meet on Feb. 11 to discuss this issue but the final vote could be delayed until March 3.

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