MTA Executive Director Carla Meyer Explains Ukiah Senior Transit
Our mission at the Mendocino Transit Authority (MTA) is to provide safe, courteous, reliable, affordable and carbon-neutral public transportation to all, not “saving a few pennies” as was unjustly stated in a Feb. 22 Ukiah Daily Journal article about Dial-A-Ride versus Ukiah Senior Center transportation service. This column rebuts the inaccuracies in that article.
When Mendocino Transit Authority, your county’s tax-supported public transit company, revamped our Dial-A-Ride service specifically to serve seniors and disabled customers last year, their needs were top of mind.
Our communities’ seniors and disabled citizens, which the last census shows is 34% of Mendocino County’s population, can now make a 24-hour advance reservation for guaranteed, on-time transportation anywhere in the greater Ukiah Valley. Under terms of the American Disabilities Act, personal care attendants can and do accompany a senior/disabled passenger for free. This is not a choice by MTA nor a perk offered by the senior center; it is a right of all riders, and we fully support it.
Our drivers meet passengers at their door, load and unload grocery bags, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, and walkers from one door to and into the next. If someone is discharged from the hospital or is squeezed into a doctor’s schedule last-minute, Dial-A-Ride will provide a same-day ride. Dial-A-Ride’s new reservation service, (which is a transit-industry standard) enabled MTA to operate Dial-A-Ride more efficiently, expand our service area to serve more people, and significantly lower the fare. Dial-A-Ride now provides the same high-quality and personable service to essentially the same population at the same fare price as the Ukiah Senior Center buses.
So you can imagine how disheartened our staff—particularly our drivers—were to read criticism of that change in the Ukiah Daily Journal.
The facts are that MTA is unique in California, if not the nation, for subcontracting senior centers throughout Mendocino County to provide transportation specifically for seniors and disabled. Since MTA is supported by and must steward taxpayer funds, last year I asked the MTA Board of Directors to review funding of what appeared to be duplicative senior/disabled transportation services—Dial-A-Ride and senior center buses—in Ukiah and Fort Bragg.
In Ukiah, where MTA provides the Ukiah Senior Center with driver training, bus storage in our secure yard, and maintenance and fuel at cost, a preliminary review indicates it may be more cost-effective to provide the service with Dial-A-Ride.
Also, senior center drivers aren’t required to have the same level of training as MTA Dial-A-Ride drivers. MTA provides senior center drivers initial training and an additional eight hours of retraining annually at no cost. MTA drivers must earn a commercial driver’s license, which requires a six-to-eight-week intensive training program, plus get 25-30 hours of annual refresher training in the specific care and needs of senior and disabled riders.
In the most recent MTA customer service survey, the number one compliment was for our drivers’ skill, kindness, and exceptional customer care. We are proud of our trained, professional drivers.
Kathy Holt, our former Dial-A-Ride driver and now dispatcher with 28 years of tenure at MTA, knows most seniors by name when they call to schedule a ride. Jim Crowhurst, a long-time Dial-A-Ride driver, said, “Carrying groceries and assisting passengers in and out of their homes and into doctors’ offices is a daily event. I have assisted with coats and sweaters and even tied a few shoes!”
Recently, the Ukiah Senior Center asked MTA for more money to operate their senior transit service. But there’s no justification to take tax money away from overall public transit in Mendocino County or other senior centers in Mendocino County in order to fund more Ukiah Senior Center bus service that may be duplicative. The Willits, Anderson Valley and South Coastal Senior centers are the only “lifeline” transportation provider to seniors in their communities; in Ukiah, seniors have two options.
MTA did suggest that staff at the Ukiah Senior Center apply for federal grants that are specifically earmarked for non-profit agencies that care for the elderly and disabled. The South Coastal Senior Center in Point Arena has applied for and been successful in obtaining funds for senior transportation operations that augment MTA’s support.
No matter which bus service Ukiah senior and disabled customers ride, MTA wants them and our community to know we care and work hard to provide professional service.