Access-A-Ride delays leave seniors stranded


As the Metropolitan Transit Authority shifts control of its Access-A-Ride call center from one contractor to another, seniors say their requests for rides are getting put on hold, sometimes for hours at a time.

Sarah Schwartz, 99, said she has been waiting a half-an-hour for someone to answer. Regardless of how long she waits, an automated recording informs her of a five-minute hold time.

“I hold the phone and I fall asleep it’s so long,” said Ms. Schwartz, 99, a Riverdale resident. “They say your wait time is five minutes. It’s a big lie.”

In May 2011, MTA solicited bids for the operation of its paratransit call center in Queens because First Transit, which has manned the lines since 1996, wasn’t meeting MTA’s standards, according to Deirdre Parker, an MTA spokeswoman. Ms. Parker said Global Contact Services, LLC was awarded the bid in January and will begin dispatching calls on Monday, April 1.

Ms. Parker described delays as part of a “transition period” and she said she anticipated that Global Contact Services would trim wait times within its first week of operation.

But over the past month, seniors and professionals who work with them have reported dramatic increases in the time it takes to get through to Access-A-Ride.

Some, like Lee Maltiz, have given up. Ms. Maltiz said she stayed home two days in a row because she was on hold for so long. On Sunday, she waited for an hour before hanging up, and on Monday, she stayed on the line for a half an hour before giving up.

“I would wait if I was going downtown,” said Ms. Maltiz, a Riverdalian who uses a walker and cannot take a bus. “I would wait if I was going to the doctors. It’s terrible. The money I’m saving on Access-A-Ride, I’m paying on the phone.”

To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the MTA provides Access-A-Ride to seniors and others who cannot take public transportation and charges them a comparable rate. Riders can request pick up and drop off times and dispatchers are supposed to accommodate their requests within a certain window.

Access-A-Ride may authorize the use of a taxi if a van is later than allowed by the grace period.

Yvonne Velazquez-Rosa, the transportation coordinator for Riverdale Senior Services, said she’s noticed average wait times jump from a few minutes to 20 over the last two weeks.

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