High marks for MTA's Mobility

Users of the transport service for the disabled responded favorably in a recent survey


Users of the Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility vans and taxis for the disabled give the service significantly higher ratings than they did three years ago, according to a survey the MTA plans to release today.

According to the survey, 86 percent of Mobility users described the service as either "very good" or "excellent" this year, compared with 56 percent in 2003. The numbers of riders calling the service either "fair" or "poor" fell from 27 percent three years ago to 9 percent this year.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan called the improvements found in an MTA-commissioned study an achievement for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., saying the governor had increased state resources for transportation for the disabled.

"We came up with an entirely new model for operating the system," Flanagan said.

The survey, conducted by the marketing and consulting firm of Jacobs Jenner & Kent, shows gains in many aspects of customer satisfaction with the Mobility service:

85 percent of surveyed riders gave Mobility top marks for clean vehicles, compared with 50 percent in 2003.

19 percent gave the service low marks for picking them up at home on time, compared with 47 percent three years ago.

69 percent gave Mobility high scores for getting them to their destination on time, compared with 43 percent in the earlier survey.

In answers to other questions, Mobility users also reported improvements in drivers' friendliness, on-time pickups for return trips and safe rides.

The survey also found improvements in Mobility's handling of telephone calls but noted lingering problems. Where half of riders gave the service's call center low marks for answering calls within two minutes in 2003, 44 percent ranked Mobility fair or poor in that category this year - a decline of 6 percentage points. Thirty percent of riders gave the service top marks in that category.

Flanagan said the call center has been "engulfed" by an increase in ridership.

"That is due in part to our success. More and more people are riding, and more and more people are calling," he said.

Flanagan said the MTA is moving forward with a plan to build a $25 million "state-of-the-art" call center that he expects to alleviate such problems.

The survey also provided a demographic profile of the almost 2,500 Mobility riders each day in the Baltimore area. According to the survey, three-quarters of the riders are women, almost three-quarters are black, and their average income is $28,000.

The improved results follow an announcement late last year that the MTA had reached a settlement with the Maryland Disability Law Center over a suit brought by the advocacy group on behalf of riders.

The settlement came after the disability-rights group received confirmation that MTA had, in fact, improved Mobility's on-time performance from about 77 percent of the time to about 90 percent since the suit was filed in 2003.

Early this year, the Federal Transit Administration announced that it has ended its monitoring of the Maryland program.

This year's survey also found that more than half of Mobility riders, who pay $1.85 per trip, were not aware that they could ride the MTA's bus, Light Rail and Metro services for free by showing their Mobility cards.michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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