Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (CBS) – The chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority is expected to issue an apology Wednesday for calling its paratransit vans a “limousine” service.
RTA Chairman John Gates told the Daily Herald editorial board Oct. 4 that paratransit is “a limousine service, but it’s a federally mandated limousine service that we have to provide. It’s hugely expensive, but it’s something we have to do. It’s the law. It’s a civil right.”
WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, since then, the RTA has received a steady series of complaints from riders who use the service.
“To be referred to as a limousine service — that’s a first,” said Jim Watkins, who uses a wheelchair and is a former chairman of the RTA’s ADA paratransit committee.
He said the service is anything but cushy.
Watkins said it is a shared ride service, and is far from direct. He said he has never seen a television or a wet bar in one of Pace’s vans. He said even getting it funded at minimum federally-mandated levels has been a fight.
“My question is, why do we have to have a law passed in the state of Illinois to get the RTA to properly fund something we’re responsible for?”
The RTA indicated that Gates would hear from paratransit riders, and issue an apology at the Wednesday RTA board meeting.
Paratransit users pay $3 a ride; the actual cost of the service is many times that. It is budgeted in 2013 at a tentative $136 million. That’s a huge increase from the $71 million that was budgeted in 2006, when Pace took over from the CTA the obligation to provide paratransit service in the city and immediately adjacent suburbs, where more than 80 percent of paratransit rides take place.
Watkins said he is especially unhappy that Gates referred in the Daily Herald interview to paratransit riders as “infirm.” Watkins said paratransit is a “lifeline” service but said may of its riders use it to get to and from jobs, shopping and to visit family and friends in addition to using it to get to and from medical care.
Watkins said what Gates and other RTA board members need is sensitivity training and a few rides in paratransit vans while confined to wheelchairs to see what riders with disabilities face.