Written by Edgar Estrada
Demonstrators gathered outside of DART headquarters in Dallas on Tuesday, Jan. 8, to protest a DART Board vote, which could lead to all paratransit rides being outsourced to taxis and ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.
DART Paratransit Services is a curb-to-curb, public transportation service for people with disabilities who are unable to use DART fixed route buses and trains.
Currently DART outsources part of the paratransit program to taxis and Uber. The majority of the paratransit services include busses equipped with wheelchair accessible ramps, and drivers who are trained to accommodate people with disabilities.
Fares for paratransit riders are $3 per ride.
Claudia Jones, a paratransit driver, feels the connection she makes with the users of the paratransit system separates her from taxi and Uber drivers.
“It’s very important, because some of our passengers aren’t able to make decisions by themselves,” Jones said. “That leaves them to rely on us to get them home safely, to make sure that they are okay.
“We had one of our passengers who was upset, because [other service providers] don’t have a strap that goes over [the body]; they only had a lap belt,” Jones said. “I gave them a Posey belt. I showed them how to use the belt, so it can tie them down.”
Jones and other paratransit drivers are employed with MV Transportation, whose paratransit contract with DART began in 2012. The seven-year contract ends later this year.
Kenneth Day, a representative of DART workers, believes paratransit users need to be considered.
“These are our most vulnerable patrons,” Day said.
There are 146 paratransit drivers. They would all lose their jobs if the DART Board votes to outsource the paratransit program to Uber and taxis.
“The savings are on the backs of the employees,” Day said. “The savings are from not giving people decent wages and health care.”
The DART Board planned to vote on the contract award for mobility management services on Tuesday night, but motioned to move the vote to a later meeting.
Members of the community were able to speak to the board during the public comments section of the board meeting.
Yvonne Pacheco spoke in front of the board and detailed her experience with taxi drivers in the past.
“I have had a lot of problems with the taxi drivers, because they don’t secure me right,” Pacheco said. “They don’t use a shoulder strap, because they don’t have it. I cannot just do a lap one. I have no legs; I have no balance. If someone hits us from the back, I’m out that window. “
Pacheco is displeased that taxi drivers use their phones when driving with her. She infers the drivers are not talking to dispatchers, because they are not speaking English.
“Do any of you care,” Pacheco asked. “Do any of you have brothers, sisters or parents that ride? All I know is that the DART drivers who drive the paratransit bus secure me properly, and I don’t have to worry about it.
“I have to ride the paratransit Monday, Wednesday and Friday, due to dialysis. The taxis are always 35 minutes to an hour late.”
When she arrives late to her dialysis appointment, Pacheco has to leave the appointment before the procedure is finished.
“[It is damaging] my life because of them,” Pacheco said. “The [taxi drivers] will not wait for me even five minutes. The paratransit drivers always wait for me, because they know me by name.”
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Video by Edgar Estrada