The director of Area of Richmond Transit (ART) bus organization on Thursday said the actions that led to an elderly disabled woman’s not being able to board a bus home after a medical appointment isn’t standard procedure.
Johnny Morman said that, while he was out of town at a conference, a woman who regularly rides the multi-passenger van to and from dialysis appointments at a discounted rate was not permitted to board after the driver discovered she didn’t have the $1 fare. The incident occurred on Monday. The bus operator called dispatch to request guidance and the dispatcher, following the agency’s established rules, said the woman was not permitted to board the bus.
The woman was left stranded until a family member arrived later to take her home.
“I don’t know what to say to that except … I hope you know that it is not our intent for someone to not have a ride home,” Morman said. “Had I been here, that would have been discussed with me. There is no way I would have let that lady not get a ride home.”
Morman called the rider’s issue “a special situation.”
“I certainly don’t want the message out that we don’t care about people,” he said. “I hate that I’m even having to have this conversation. We’re in the business of serving people. We have to charge a fee. It’s the only way we can survive. At the same time, we care about people.”
Area of Richmond Transit is a private nonprofit entity that operates under Richmond Interagency Transportation Inc. It serves human service agencies, including McLaurin Vocational Training Center, Richmond County Council on Aging and Sandhills Mental Health, and the public through subscription and dial-a-ride routes.
Morman explained that the normal fare is between $4 and $9 for rides within Richmond County but ART receives state funding through the North Carolina Elderly and Disabled Transportation Assistance Program. To receive the discounted rate, passengers must be at least 60 years of age “and a disabled person, defined as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, an individual who has a record of such impairment or an individual who is regarded as having such an impairment,” according to state law.
ART used to charge eligible passengers nothing for their rides. Morman said that was not a sustainable approach, however, because the state funding covered only about nine months of the year. Each year, he said, with about three months to go in the fiscal year he would have to inform affected passengers that he would have to begin collecting full fare in order to ensure their rides.
With the support of the ART board of directors, Morman implented a $1 year-long fee instead.That helps the program stay in the black on ART’s line item budget.
“By charging that $1, we have been able to go that entire year and not run out of funding,” Morman said. “In the case of the dollar, which is not much but in collecting that throughout the year, it does make us be able to serve these folks the entire year.”
Morman stood by the actions of his dispatcher given the situation. She was, he said, “going by the rules. Before they are allowed to sit, they have to pay.”
Through a family member, the woman affected declined to talk about the incident.