On August 1, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) wrote a memo to all MetroAccess drivers telling them to stop picking up anyone who could not pay the full fare, starting on Monday. Now, just four days later, WMATA has retracted the policy.
MetroAccess services people who are unable to take the bus or the train, usually because of a disability. WMATA operates the program in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As reported by the Washington Examiner, the WMATA memo to drivers stated: “If the customer does not have the fare for a given trip, they are not allowed to board the vehicle and take the trip,” and “This applies to all trips, including those that are the second leg of a round trip.”
Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee protested the plan at a meeting on Monday night, and a number of drivers said they refused to implement the policy — even if they had to pay the fares themselves. Driver Roberta Henry told the Washington Examiner, “That could be my mother, my father who is riding MetroAccess…. I’m not going to leave that person there.”
By Tuesday WMATA had sent a second memo instructing drivers to ignore the first memo and await further notice. On Wednesday, WMATA sent a third memo, saying the MetroAccess “no strand” policy will supersede the new full fare policy for the time being.
WMATA says they’re looking for examples from around the country of how paratransit providers formalize fare collection when the rider is unable to pay upon boarding. The Accessibility Advisory Committee is reportedly contributing to the new policy.
New York City’s Access-A-Ride (AAR) does not carry riders if they do not pay the fare, but riders can buy AAR TransitChek coupons and use one coupon per ride. Boston’s the RIDE also doesn’t follow a no strand policy, but has riders set up RIDE accounts — with an initial deposit of $12 — and maintain sufficient funds for rides at all times. Drivers in these cities may pick up riders who are unable to pay, regardless of agency policy.
In cities around the world, disabled people suffer from economic and social exclusion because of their inability to use public transit systems. Services like MetroAccess aim to make cities more accessible for people who are unable to access subway or bus systems.