They also said the way they are supposed to collect the fares -- outside before riders get aboard the vehicles -- exposes them and their riders to danger.
But MetroAccess officials recently sent a memo outlining the fare policies in the wake of a recent fare increase: "[Drivers] need to ensure they are asking for the fare PRIOR TO boarding -- especially when they are picked up from home. If from their home and they DO NOT have ID or Full Fare, they are NOT to ride -- period."
Some drivers say they are ignoring the policy outright, accepting fares inside their vans instead. Some are also paying for riders who can't afford the new higher fares that run as high as $7 per one-way trip. MetroAccess is the federally mandated service within Metro for people with disabilities unable to ride buses and trains.
The transit agency has been trying to find ways to limit a massive surge in ridership: tightening the eligibility rules for riders, limiting the service area and raising fares.
Driver Carla Brooks said she's paid for riders three times recently. "It comes from my money, which comes out of my kids' mouths," said the single mother of four. But she said she'll keep doing it, especially when riders have dialysis treatments.
"That's life-threatening. They need this treatment to be able to live," she said. "I'm not going to keep them from going."
Armenta Thomas, who has driven for MetroAccess for five years, said she paid for one rider's fare last week so he could get to his job, and has shouldered the fare of other riders almost every week.
But Thomas said drivers shouldn't be asked to collect cash fares at all, and certainly not outside the van. "It could create a big problem," she said. "Asking them for that money outside is really risky."
Metro defended the policy.
"We understand that fare adjustments are never easy for any of our riders," Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates in an email. "Just as payment for bus and rail trips is required in advance, so is payment on MetroAccess. Our expectation is that drivers will work with customers to continue to help them adjust to this change."
MV Transportation, which provides the service for Metro, said drivers should follow the policies, which are industry standards. "We take driver and passenger safety very seriously and in no way would we knowingly put drivers or passengers at risk of being harmed," said spokeswoman Nikki Frenney.
In August, the transit agency ordered MetroAccess drivers not to not to pick up elderly and disabled riders unable to pay full fares - on either leg of their trips. But the agency then reversed itself after drivers complained that riders would be stranded. The new policy allows riders who cannot pay their way home to be driven, so as not to strand them.