By Monica Sanchez
Arcadia is changing companies for its transit dial-a-ride and fixed route system to better suit the needs of seniors and disabled citizens. On Aug. 15, the Arcadia City Council officially approved the transition to a new company, First Transit, Inc., a change that a task force assembled of five seniors and disabled citizens has been vying after for two years and finally achieved after actively working with council members in the selection process for the new company.
City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto said, “We’ve been in a transition for the last 18 to 24 months going from a basic dial-a-ride system to a full service transit system,” and he added that First Transit, Inc. will provide “a new service at an affordable cost but also at service levels that the system needs in order to be successful.”
Currently, Southland Transit and its parent company have provided all the management and staffing for Arcadia’s transit needs, serving the city for 30 years. Jason Snow, Chief Operating Officer for Southland Transit, thanked council members for their 30 year partnership at the Aug. 15 council meeting. While the council appreciated the gesture, a number of issues with Southland Transit that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have proved the need for this change to First Transit, Inc.
In the past few years, Arcadia’s transit service was primarily being used by students, making it difficult for seniors and disabled citizens to receive proper care and attention or even get a ride at all. Because the transit system was cheaper than paying for school bus services, students or their parents would call a month in advance and order a subscription for a bus that took them to school or after school activities. Since student demand was high, Southland took out one of the wheelchair sections on a bus and replaced it with a bench to seat more students, according to Leader of the Transit Task Force, former mayor Gail Marshall. Such an action goes against ADA law; transit buses are supposed to store at least two wheelchairs.
With not much room left for seniors or the disabled, those seniors or disabled who were able to get a ride still experienced significant problems with Southland’s service. Transit Task Force leader Marshall, explained that “Some of the girls in wheelchairs have been stuck in the past when we had Southland.” Southland was either late in picking up passengers or did not show up at all, and passengers experienced difficulties in reaching Southland through dispatch.
Until First Transit, Inc. takes over on Oct. 1, Southland will continue serving Arcadia on a month-to-month contract.
The $8,248,078 five-year contract with First Transit, Inc. is going to provide improved service as well as updated technology. Council member Roger Chandler, who has previous passenger experience with First Transit, Inc., said “it was far better to pay a little extra money to get the service that we need. We do have people with special needs, and they need to be treated according to the law and according to their needs.”
First Transit, Inc. will provide real time bus location and arrival information through a mobile phone app. App users will receive an arrival status notification, so they do not have to wait outside in the hot sun for their ride as they have had to in the past.
Travelers are also able to to call the night before and get an appointment the next day with First Transit, Inc., which is a significant improvement as opposed to the previous service, which Marshall said “Sometimes if we called a week in advance, we still couldn’t get an appointment because of the students.”
Arcadia’s transit dial-a-ride system is reserved for seniors, 62 and older, and the disabled, but students in need of transit services can use the fixed route system. The Green Line makes stops along Santa Anita Park, City Hall, Methodist Hospital, Westfield Santa Anita Mall and the Los Angeles County Arboretum. And the Blue and Red Lines make stops near activity centers and schools that students would need to visit on a regular basis.
While happy with the change to First Transit, Inc., Marshall hopes that, in the future, the city will allow “the transit go outside the city limits at least one day a week, maybe two, eventually to go to doctor’s appointments.” Because the city will save money with the new five-year contract with First Transit, Inc., a quarter of a million dollars, since other sources are aiding in funding this transition, it is feasible that the city can accommodate this need as well, but it is up to their discretion.
And Jolly Wu, member of the Transit Task Force, said that “We hope the city staff can continue to keep an eye on…our new contract with First Transit.” Wu hopes that First Transit, Inc. “will follow the contract and follow the ADA law. I know we are a great city. I know we are a great country. Please follow the ADA law.”