One woman held up a picture of an empty fridge, saying she already had a friend who some months had to choose between eating and getting to work.
“I’m asking City Council to sit in my wheel chair for one day, one hour, or even one minute,” said another.
Richmond City Council voted 6-3 on Monday night to raise fares and make reductions to GRTC’s CARE paratransit service for disabled residents, but not before hearing from 20 riders who said the cuts would be devastating.
The pleas made an impact on the council members; the decision to go ahead with the cuts followed two hours of wrangling and hand wringing among the elected officials, who briefly considered delaying the vote for a second consecutive meeting.But ultimately fiscal concerns won the day. “We over extended ourselves,” said Councilwoman Kathy Graziano. Only Ellen Robertson, Reva Trammell and Cynthia Newbille voted against the measure.
As approved, the action raises fares, cuts some service hours, and creates two classes of rides: Basic CARE and Extended CARE.
- Basic CARE service is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and must be provided for qualified riders in the same areas and at the same times and days as the normal service GRTC operates -- seven days a week between 4:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. That service will still operate as usual, but the council approved a fare increase from $2.50 to $3.
- Extended Care service is beyond what’s required by the ADA. It includes rides to areas outside of areas where fixed-route buses go. The city had been providing those rides for $2.50. Under the new plan, one-way fares will cost $6 and the service will only be provided from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The changes might sound minor, but the disabled residents who spoke made it clear the service was a lifeline. They said even a small increase in the fees would impact their budgets.
Meanwhile, GRTC administrators said the subsidized program was unsustainable without the changes. They said the actual cost of providing the rides is $30, and that ridership has been growing in recent years. With no changes, the system would be facing a budget shortfall of $800,000.
GRTC CEO Eldridge Coles said the city could have opted to throw money at the problem, but he advised against it. “We’d take it,” he says. “But the problem’s only going to grow.”