Metro's service for riders with disabilities has a "white glove list" calling for special treatment for a handful of riders, including some well-connected disability rights advocates, according to an internal memo.
The email from a MetroAccess senior scheduling manager advises staff that the six riders listed needed to get direct rides, not the shared rides with multiple stops that riders typically get on the federally mandated paratransit service.
"The smallest mistake with one of their trips WILL blow up in our faces as much as it possibly can. We have no margin of error with these people whatsoever," said the email dated from June 11, which was first reported on the blog AccessTheDMV.
|Special treatment ordered|
|"Remember that the six people below need to get direct trips every time. Period. Print this list if you need to, but we can't forget this part because the smallest mistake with one of their trips WILL blow up in our faces as much as it possibly can. We have no margin of error with these people whatsoever." - email with the subject "White Glove List Reminder" from Timothy LaRocque, scheduling manager of MV Transportation, which provides MetroAccess service|
Two of the 11 riders listed on that email and an "Alert 'Hot' Customers" list are members of Metro's Accessibility Advisory Committee. Another is a longtime advocate with the American Council of the Blind, while a fourth has a doctorate in disability policy issues and works for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Duronne Walker, the Ph.D. who runs a hiring program for those with disabilities at the DOT, did not know he was on any list but wasn't surprised given his job and his frequent complaints to MetroAccess. "I'm in a high-level position. I could go to Secretary LaHood," he said.
He said he has had trips that routed him through Suitland when trying to get from his home in Alexandria to his job near the Navy Yard in Southeast D.C. He said he has been cursed at by a driver.
"I understand my rights. You might call me the blind Rosa Parks," he said. "If you mess with me, I can't imagine what you're doing with people who can't advocate for themselves."
MV Transportation, which is under contract to provide the service for Metro, denied it has lists calling for riders to get preferential treatment.
"From time to time, we are made aware of customer experiences that are less than ideal. Each of these instances is investigated thoroughly, and when valid, we then monitor the passenger's trips to ensure the issues are appropriately corrected and service levels are restored," said Leland Petersen, MV's project manager. Instead, MV said the ever-changing list is a "customer service notation to monitor the experience of customers who have reported past issues," and is done without regard for individuals' status as advocates or advisory members.
However, the wording of the email orders better service for a select few.
"That's supposed to be the level they are providing for all of us," said Kathi Spray, a MetroAccess rider who was not on the list.
Even so, Sandra Sermons, a longtime MetroAccess rider who works with the American Council of the Blind, said her trips haven't improved even though she is on both lists.
"If I'm on that list, I can't tell," Sermons said. "If anything, it's gotten worse."
A trip that should have taken 30 minutes on Saturday was two and half hours, she said. And MetroAccess has repeatedly dropped her off at the wrong destination or picked her up so late she missed appointments. One driver berated her, then dropped her bag as she left the vehicle, causing her coffee mug to shatter.
"I kind of wish if there were such a thing, it would mean something," she added. "My service is pretty bad."