Montgomery County program to transport seniors hits snags

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Local,Maryland,Liz Essley,Montgomery County,Metro and Traffic

A Montgomery County program to transport seniors and people with disabilities is being scammed by taxi drivers after switching to a new electronic system, county officials say.

The county's "Call-N-Ride" program gives people older than 67 and adults with disabilities discounted rides in county-approved taxis. People with lower income receive bigger discounts. The program previously used paper coupons but switched to a new electronic "debit card" system in April.

But now taxi drivers are scamming the program by pretending their swipe card machines and GPS systems are malfunctioning and using paper receipts to get more reimbursement from the county than they deserve, Howard Benn, a Montgomery County Department of Transportation official, said at a regional transit meeting Wednesday.

"There were just too many [paper receipts] from drivers. It wasn't a normal distribution," Benn said. "We had suspicion of it happening excessively."

County officials have found a handful of taxi drivers they think are gaming the system and are able to take away their taxi licenses, should they be proven guilty, Benn said. The county will have to continually audit the debit card system to make sure it's not being scammed, Benn said.

It's not the only problem with the new system. Residents also are complaining that the new rules require them to call a dispatch service instead of contacting taxi drivers they know and trust, Benn said.

But the new system solves problems the county had with the paper coupons. Residents would hoard the coupons or use them for trips that the program wasn't intended to help pay for, Benn said.

"They were using them for trips not intended, not within Montgomery County, like to go to a restaurant in Baltimore," Benn said. "That wasn't the program's intent."

Benn said the county was hoping Metro would start letting MetroAccess users pay for rides via SmarTrip cards, and then Montgomery would follow suit for the Call-N-Ride program, since many Call-N-Ride users also are approved to ride MetroAccess, Metro's door-to-door service for people with disabilities. But that didn't happen, so the county went its own way.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner