Disability advocates want more resources for MetroAccess and other paratransit services

FAIRFAX, Virginia—A group of disability advocates met Wednesday night to discuss challenges with MetroAccess, the Fairfax County-funded paratransit service.

The Fairfax Area Disability Services Board and the Fairfax County Long Term Care Coordinating Council convened in a monthly joint committee meeting at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Donna Goldbranson, executive director of SPARC Solutions, joined the meeting to discuss roadblocks her organization has faced with MetroAccess, and to gain support from the committee. SPARC provides vocational training programs for people with disabilities in the Washington Metro Area.

“How can we expect people to really be working and living on their own if they actually move out of their family home and find that they can’t go someplace that they’re trying to go,” said Goldbranson. 

MetroAccess is a mandated paratransit service under the Americans with Disabilities Act—the fifth largest in the country. The ADA is a civil rights law signed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in all public aspects of life.

Goldbranson was disappointed with MetroAccess when Maureen, one of the participants in SPARC’s training program, was told she was “out of network” for MetroAccess service. She was refused a ride from her home in Falls Church to Christ Church in Fairfax Station, where the vocational trainings are held.

“The gymnastics that she had to go through to do this was really herculean,” said Goldbranson.

Members of the joint committee offered Goldbranson advice on how to proceed and contacts to connect with.

One member, Glen Padeway, manager of Fairfax County’s Human Services Transportation suggested she connect with individuals at Fastran, a specialized transportation service for individuals going to and from “human services agencies programs.”

Because SPARC is a Community Services Board client, their participants are eligible to use Fastran.

Another committee member, Thomas Bash, noted that MetroAccess needs to modernize the technology they use to schedule rides and routes to make the system more efficient.

“The problem really is that they’re using out-of-date technology...and they refuse to move into the 21st century,” said Bash. “It’s an inefficient system.”

Bash, who is on 10 other Fairfax County committees was frustrated with MetroAccess’ “antiquated” technology, instead praising the interface technology used by mobile apps like Uber. He also claimed that drivers are more prone to work for private sector competition.

He was met with some disagreement, however, with others insisting that the technology isn’t the issue, rather government funding for paratransit services.

“I drive an Uber and I know how their rules work,” committee member Ayman Aldarwish of Mason District argued. “I don’t know if Uber is going to serve the entire Metro area that way.”

In June of 2017, a civil rights group, the Equal Rights Center, sued Uber for a lack of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, or WAVs. The ERC alleges that Uber failed to provide WAVs and, on one occasion, denied an individual from driving for Uber if he used a WAV.

The solution, according to a majority of the committee, is better funding and more advocacy. 

Fairfax County pays over $13 million annually to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to operate MetroAccess. The funding subsidy increases substantially every year, as the cost of ridership fairs soars. Access and availability to this mobility service remains limited, however.

The committee hopes to solve the continuing issues with MetroAccess to provide people with disabilities an efficient way to be transported and to live a normal life.

Rawan Elbaba