Wayne Lougee was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease when he was 48 and the progressive neurological disorder has taken its toll on the now 66-year-old Gilbert man’s body.
“I stopped driving about three or four years ago,” he said. “My family took my keys away and sold my car. And I can’t walk anymore; I’m pretty much very disabled. I use a walker, I’m an extreme fall risk.”
Twice a week Lougee would take Valley Metro’s paratransit bus to Banner Neuro Wellness on Gilbert Road, north of Elliot Road in the Heritage District. The center has a gym that offers exercise for those with neurological movement and degenerative disorders.
Valley Metro’s paratransit is a door-to-door, shared-ride public transportation service for people unable to use the local bus due to a disability. In Gilbert, this service is only available to ADA-certified riders for a $4 one-way fare.
Lougee said he began having issues with paratransit picking him up from the gym.
The problem became acute for Lougee on a Tuesday in July when the temperature hit a scorching 115 degrees.
“I was waiting for my scheduled 4-4:30 p.m. ride home,” the retired government analyst said. “I get out of my gym at 3:30 p.m. and they refuse to give me a 3:30-4 p.m. window.”
Lougee said that his ride on Tuesdays had been coming late – one time he waited until 7 p.m. for a scheduled 4-4:30 p.m. pick-up. The Banner gym closes at 4 p.m.
On that hot July day, he said, Valley Metro failed to alert him that his ride wasn’t coming at all.
He said he waited outside in the heat until 6 p.m., when he finally phoned Valley Metro and was hastily told that a taxi would be scheduled to pick him up.
According to Valley Metro, ADA Paratransit services primarily uses dedicated, accessible paratransit vehicles for approximately 70% of the service. The remaining 30% comprise associated taxi providers.
The taxi driver showed up nearly two hours past the 30-minute pick-up window, according to a quality assurance manager in an email to Lougee.
The manager said an investigation showed the cab dispatcher “missed the call” and that a driver returning to town was to pick up Lougee. The driver arrived at 6:22 p.m.
“Dispatch claims that there were no available drivers to pick up the member at the assigned time or within the window,” the quality assurance manager wrote Lougee. “The supervisor has been asked to investigate to determine if maybe a driver could have been re-routed to accommodate the request in a timelier manner.”
Lougee said when he got home that day, he experienced painful spasms in his heart.
“My body doesn’t feel heat or cold (so) I didn’t know that I had heat stroke until I got home,” he said.
He said he could no longer stand and ended up staying in bed for a week.
“I don’t have the gym to go back into,” Lougee said. “I could have gone into a restaurant and ordered something (but) I was waiting for that bus and I wasn’t going to try anything else because the bus was supposed to be there.”
A driver will give a rider a 30-minute pick-up window, which starts from the scheduled pick-up time, but the maximum time that drivers are required to wait for customers after arriving at the pick-up location is five minutes.
Lougee said he contacted Valley Metro with his concerns but they’ve yielded little beyond apologies.
“I’ve written them and complained and every time I get this letter, ‘we’re sorry,’” he said. “I don’t care for a letter saying you’re sorry. I want assurances that this won’t happen again.”
Spokeswoman Susan Tierney in an email said that safe transportation for all customers is a priority for Valley Metro.
“We apologize for any issues that may have occurred with this particular rider,” said Tierney, who added she would need more information to research what happened. “We take every trip seriously and are always looking for ways to better serve our customers.”
She added that riders are encouraged to contact customer service so issues can be reviewed and addressed promptly.
According to Tierney, the average monthly paratransit trips in Gilbert totaled 2,149 in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
She did not respond to a question asking how often in a month riders don’t get picked up within the wait window.
Tierney did say that Valley Metro Paratransit tries to maintain clear communication with its riders at all times.
“We utilize an automated system that is designed to contact passengers 30 minutes prior to the anticipated arrival of the vehicle,” she said. “Customers are notified via phone, text or email, depending on the option requested by the customer.”
Lougee said an automated system calls or texts 10 minutes before the bus is supposed to arrive for a pick up.
“But that automated system is not connected to the driver or the bus,” he said. “It seems to be connected to the rider via the rider’s scheduled ride but is not used as a signal that someone has been stranded.
“I have received the automated call that the bus is 10 minutes away as I was actually already riding on the bus. The driver had no connection to that automated signal and just laughed because as he said, ‘I guess we are going to pick you up in 10 minutes.’”
According to Lougee, if a bus misses the pick-up window, the rider doesn’t get an automated call.
“If the bus is two or three hours late, the 10-minute call will happen at the later time,” he said. “The bus company never tries to let a rider know if a bus is late or just not coming.
“I do not believe that the bus company computer system warns the bus people that a rider is stranded. The rider only gets service in these situations if the rider complains he or she is still waiting.”
Lougee said he isn’t the only rider left stranded by the paratransit service and that he wants to improve the service for the disabled community.
“I know that there are a lot of people, especially at Banner Neuro Wellness,” he said. “People there used to take Valley Metro and no longer take it because it’s no longer reliable.
“I know others who take it and they don’t have the mental capacity to deal with their problems and so they just sit there and wait and no one cares what happens. There are disabled persons at risk.”
Lougee said that he doesn’t blame the drivers.
“A driver was told at 6:30 to pick up a customer at Queen Creek and one at north Mesa,” he said. “Drivers can’t perform miracles but (Valley Metro) blames the drivers.”
Lougee said that Valley Metro receives its funding from member municipalities such as Gilbert and should be held accountable “for what they are doing to the disabled community, which they are supposed to be servicing.”
Gilbert’s contract with Valley Metro for paratransit services in the current fiscal year will cost $2.3 million, according to town spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison.
“The Town monitors the ridership information we receive from Valley Metro each month to ensure the system is providing a high level of service,” Harrison said.
For now, Lougee said he’s stopped going to the Banner gym.
“I told them that I won’t take the bus again until someone in management assures me that it won’t happen again,” he said. “There’s no assurance that they will take care of me. I want a phone call if a bus is not going to get me.
“I want them to recognize that someone in medical need is on the sidewalk waiting for hours.”
By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor www.gilbertsunnews.com
2023-08-29 07:00:00 , www.gilbertsunnews.com – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article