The Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility service for the disabled, long criticized for its poor performance, has staged a turnaround, according to figures released yesterday by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
The Mobility service has an on-time rate of 90 percent - up from 77 percent 16 months ago - and has cut complaints in half since then, the governor's office said. Mobility provides curb-to-curb van and car service to thousands of disabled people a day in the Baltimore area.
"When we came into office in 2003, we found a paratransit system that was chronically late and unable to provide an acceptable level of service to those who need it most," Ehrlich said. "The improved on-time performance and drop in customer complaints are the result of our comprehensive overhaul of the system."
The promised improvements were delayed by months because of an extended dispute over which contractor would provide the service.
The incumbent provider, Yellow Transportation Inc., which MTA had blamed for poor service, defeated the administration's attempt to oust it by convincing the Maryland Board of Contract Appeals that the state's award of a contract to a competitor was tainted by bias.
The MTA launched a reorganized Mobility service in July 2004 with Yellow and MV Transportation as its two contractors. The first weeks under the new system were chaotic, with many disabled customers complaining of late arrivals and missed appointments, but MTA statistics show that the system has done better since then.
Demand for the service has increased as performance improved. The MTA said it provided 153,000 Mobility trips in the July-September quarter of this year, compared with 126,000 in the corresponding period of 2004.
Customer complaints haven fallen from seven per 1,000 trips last year to 3.5 per 1,000 this year, the MTA said.
The changes brought qualified praise from one of MTA's most persistent critics.
Lauren Young, litigation director of the Maryland Disability Law Center, said Mobility has problems but also has made significant improvements.
"They've got issues with the phones, they've got issues with missed trips, they have no-shows sometimes, but their on-time performance has really improved," said Young, whose group sued the MTA in 2003 over the quality of Mobility service. That suit is pending.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said one reason for the improvement was increased accountability of service providers under the contract.
"When they do better, the contract is more profitable for them. When they do poorly, the contract is less profitable," he said.