The Federal Transit Administration, which in 2003 chastised Maryland for providing poor public transit service to the disabled in the Baltimore region, has ended its monitoring of the state-run program because of improvements made since then.
This week's decision came almost three years after the federal agency released a scathing report that helped form the basis of a lawsuit by the Maryland Disability Law Center on behalf of users of the Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility van and cab service. The settlement of that suit, announced in December, was formally approved yesterday by Judge Benson E. Legg in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the settlement and federal release were "milestones" in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s effort to improve transit service for the disabled.
"We will continue to work on improving paratransit," Flanagan said, pointing to a $42 million commitment in the Transportation Department's new six-year plan to add vehicles and improve the Mobility call center.
The disability law center asked the federal agency to investigate the Mobility program in 2002, passing along more than 1,000 complaints of missed rides, stranded passengers, poor on-time performance and other service lapses.
A federal compliance audit released the following February found serious problems with the Mobility service, which is required to provide disabled riders with transit service comparable to that available to other passengers. According to the agency, the MTA and its contractor regularly overstated its on-time performance and recorded fed-up riders as "no-shows."
The agency's Office of Civil Rights ordered the MTA to produce reports demonstrating improved service. The disability law center filed suit against the MTA and Flanagan in October 2003, contending that the agency had made no progress.
In a letter Wednesday to MTA Administrator Lisa Dickerson, the director of the civil rights office praised the efforts the state agency had made to respond to its concerns.
Michael A. Winter, the director, said the MTA improved on-time performance, added a taxicab service, changed procedures and held contractors accountable for performance.
"We determined that they sufficiently corrected the deficiencies," said Dave Longo, spokesman for the federal agency.
Those changes, which followed the MTA's implementation of a new management system in 2004, raised Mobility's on-time performance to about 90 percent, state officials said.
Flanagan and advocates for the disabled said those improvements helped pave the way for the settlement.
The MTA retained management authority over Mobility but agreed to oversight by an independent consultant chosen jointly by the center and the state.