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Taxi vouchers a transit-ory stop for Cottonwood
Cottonwood recently resumed operation of the regional bus operation and now some users of the system are protesting the city’s position on continuing the “taxi voucher” program.
7/10/2012 10:51:00 AM
By Jon Hutchinson
COTTONWOOD -- A special service of the CAT transit system apparently is haunting both sides of the operation. Users of the system are worried that Cottonwood is dropping the ball on "taxi vouchers." City administrators are worried that the special privilege is being abused by some handicapped users.
One regular rider, Mary Rodriguez complains, "Why are people like me, elderly and disabled, forced to wait ... until plans ... are nitpicked."
So-called "taxi vouchers," called the New Freedom Fund grant, gives a handicapped person another way to move around during the off-hours of the bus system.
When Cottonwood recently resumed operation of the regional bus operation, the city held a meeting June 27 to hear from users. Administrators were surprised at the amount of turbulence they heard.
Doralea Kendricks said, "One elderly lady left crying because she couldn't get answers."
NAIPTA, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Transportation Association, ran and upgraded the service during one year.
NAIPTA received the usual rural transit grant funding for communities with less than 50,000 population. But, NAIPTA also began receiving money from a separate grant that provided handicapped folks access to a discounted taxi service to travel after regular bus hours ended.
The so-called Taxi Vouchers, using a federal 5317 grant to supplement the CAT Paratransit service, operates during normal transit service hours from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and even provides a door-to-door service. That regular Paratransit service allows for routine trips for groceries, doctors and dentist appointments. The taxi vouchers would allow for after-hours emergencies, according to Cottonwood Community Services Manager Richard Faust.
Faust said city officials discovered that the special funds for the "ADA-plus" service that allowed for taxi vouchers had been abused in some cases and the grant was totally exhausted over that period. Some people had used the vouchers for taxi rides as often as three times a day, according to Faust. They seemed to be substituting a taxi for a bus ride, he said.
A request to NACOG, one of the grant partners, provided $2,500 to help underwrite taxi vouchers until the annual program could be re-established in October.
Bruce Morrow, who now manages the CAT system, believes about 100 passengers have used the so-called "taxi vouchers," but he says the city is reviewing the program to make sure that it can be adopted and operated by the city without excessive liability. It was always considered a "trial" program, according to Morrow, even when instituted by NAIPTA.
A new grant would be effective in October, but Faust is warning that the $2,500 provided as a stop-gap won't last long if people continue to use taxis for regular rides instead of the Para-transit service, during the hours when that is available.
The Cottonwood City Council will consider a memorandum of understanding during a July 17 meeting to assure the process for the interim funds and make sure that taxi companies have the necessary liability coverage.
Meanwhile, Faust said the system wants to restore service to its frequency before cutbacks were needed earlier this year. He is hoping the "Green Line" can be restored and that routes can operate at 30-minute intervals. But, he says, those are still unknowns.
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