Paratransit/Rideshare Operations Manager steering program to meet rider needs

P Vargas_FINAL_1Imagine being unable to take a bus because of a disability. Riders without disabilities can take it for granted, but riders with disabilities do not.

For those riders with disabilities who can’t take their trip on the bus, there is Access, King County Metro’s ADA paratransit service. It is a demand response, shared ride transit service that picks riders up and takes them to their destination. It operates during the same times and days as the bus does and riders can use it to go anywhere as they would the bus.

With the support of her department, Priscilla Vargas, Manager of Paratransit and Rideshare Operations, is working to improve Access and the experience of riders with disabilities.

“It’s really about providing a service that is not complicated or difficult to navigate for our riders,” Priscilla said. “It needs to always be looked at to figure out ‘Is there a better way of doing what we do?’”

“We’re monitoring the program and how it’s providing services so that we can find what makes the most sense for Metro to enhance it.”

This ongoing monitoring is part of how the agency adapts and anticipates riders’ needs. This year, Metro will be working with Access riders and the disability community about the service to understand where improvements could be made.

Managing several contracts and staying attuned to the developing needs of Access paratransit riders takes dedication, innovation and leadership. Priscilla blends these into a solid management style that tackles issues head on. Originally from New Jersey, she moved to California in 1981 and has been involved with paratransit services since the passage of the ADA. She will be celebrating three years with King County Metro this June.

“I’ve always been passionate about working with people with disabilities, at all levels,” she said. “It’s important to respond directly to concerns from riders and engage with them to meet their needs.”

Priscilla recounts where Paratransit employees went the extra mile to meet with riders and find ways to improve the process.

“Recently, Melony Joyce, Metro’s ADA Compliance Officer and I met with a paratransit rider who didn’t have a good experience on Access,” she said. “So we met face-to-face to address her concerns.”

While some situations are challenging, others have been more rewarding. There are many such examples of the appreciation Paratransit riders have for the hard work being done to safely and securely provide transportation.

“Another time an Access rider wanted to give us a donation and was upset when I explained we couldn’t take it,” said Priscilla. “She was so kind she offered to bake something for us instead.”

The Paratransit program works with four contracts including Harborview Medical Center for eligibility assessments, the Access call center for reservations, scheduling, dispatch and customer service and several service providers for transportation, including local non-profit Solid Ground.

For more information about the Paratransit program and other King County Metro assistance for riders with disabilities visit the King County accessible services site.