Court orders MARTA to defend paratransit service

A federal judge has ordered MARTA to appear in court to defend the quality of service it provides for disabled patrons.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash, for the Northern District of Georgia, said in an order issued Monday that the transit agency must appear in order to prove it has not violated the terms of an earlier consent decree.

The previous order, in place since 2002, requires MARTA to:

  • Strive for a 100 percent on-time service.
  • Provide a sufficient number of paratransit vehicles and operators so that persons requesting service can receive it on a next-day basis.
  • Attempt to answer all paratransit customers' telephone calls within three minutes.
  • Avoid placing a customer's call on hold.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported that on-time performance for MARTA's paratransit service, called MARTA Mobility, dipped to 81 percent in fiscal year 2015. The long wait times prompted numerous complaints from riders and put the transit agency in jeopardy of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that protects access to services for persons with disabilities.

“MARTA Mobility’s on-time performance was one of the issues covered by the consent decree,” said MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris in an emailed response to the order. “While MARTA has achieved compliance with respect to other issues raised in the initial litigation, we continue to make adjustments to improve our on-time performance and provide a better overall experience for our paratransit customers.”

David Ates, an attorney representing the paratransit customers, said it’s a tragedy that the disabled community can’t depend on MARTA to get around.

“The only way for disabled people to integrate into society is public transportation,” Ates said. “Without it, they would be stuck in their homes every day. You talk to these people and they’re desperate for it.”

Last month, the MARTA board voted to outsource its paratransit service to a private company, MV Transportation. The move was aimed at lowering agency costs, as well as improving customer service.

However, many in the disabled community who spoke against the decision prior to the board vote worried that service will decline once a private provider takes over.

A show cause hearing has not been scheduled. Ates said the court date will probably be set for early next year.