The Memphis Center for Independent Living
Customer Survey of MATAplus
The Memphis Center for Independent Living conducted a survey of MATAplus riders to get an overview of customer satisfaction, service delivery and paratransit system performance.
According to the MATA website, MATAplus is a shared ride paratransit service designed to meet the transportation needs of persons with disabilities in the Memphis service area. MATAplus riders must have a disability that prevents them from riding the MATA fixed-route bus system or traveling to or from bus stops.
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Historically people with disabilities have been marginalized in our society, either cared for by families or segregated into charities, facilities and institutions. The Disability Rights movement and Independent Living have struggled to include people with disabilities in all aspects of civic life. But barriers remain in physical accommodations, communication and attitudes. Today, Centers for Independent Living such as MCIL offer comprehensive Independent Living Programs that provide people with disabilities with the advocacy, training, resources and peer support needed to live independently.
People with disabilities are a powerful and significant part of our community, yet; as a group our social roles have been marginalized by bigotry, discrimination, poverty, isolation, dependency and pity. Americans with disabilities have not had access to transportation, housing and employment that other citizens have enjoyed; MCIL will change that.
For the past few months the interim director of MATAplus has reported many aspects of the paratransit system performance. Actual MATAplus users were shocked by the reported findings and did not believe that they were accurate. The purpose of the customer survey rather than the industry reported findings have the advantage of being defined and carried out by the users.
The MATA administration received the report on MATAplus without clear understanding of the actual performance of the system. For example, the March and April MATA reports show on time performance as 90% and 93.12% respectively. However, the same report shows in March there were 1,729 late trips out of 13,983 total trips; or 88%. In April the report stated that there were 1,025 late trips of 14,351; or 92.8%. The MATAplus May 2016 report showed precisely the same number of late trips as in April: 1025 and claimed the On Time Performance was 91.00% rather than 93.1%.
While these differences seem small, they show the failure of MATA to truthfully report on the paratransit system. The MATAplus report also notes some very disturbing figures. The March report said they provided 40 “Same-Day Service” requests. But riders know that these are not actually “same-day.” MATAplus administration said that they are previous requests that have been placed on a “waiting list” and provided service when it is feasible. However there is no explanation of how a “waiting list” is to work and MATAplus customers have no real understanding of how this list is intended to operate and if they can count on the MATAplus ride or not. The disturbing part is that the April report shows that the number of “Same Day Service” climbed to 2,369.
For the May 5, Specialized Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC) meeting Interim Director Steven Fields said that MATAplus had begun to take same-day reservations and provide rides that day. STAC members were surprised and skeptical of the explanation by the MATAplus head administrator. Many felt that it was simply that the Director did not know the basics of the paratransit service and all the STAC members noted that they had not ever heard of the same-day offer and had no personal experience with a same-day reservation or ride.
The MATAplus report also showed that 2,367 people apparently got the same day in May. Compared to total service, MATAplus is claiming in these reports that about one-in-five paratransit trips are actually same-day. Nothing on the MATA website or the MATAplus Rider’s Guide confirms this service and it is directly contradicted by statements on the website and in the Guide. The MATAplus webpage explains a “...reservation for a trip anywhere from three days up to the day before they wish to travel.” The Reservation section states directly “Customers can make a reservation for a trip(s) from one to three days in advance.”
MATAplus Customer Survey participants have verified in five phone calls that MATA paratransit does not offer or provide any same-day service. Every attempt that was made to arrange a same-day trip was met with the explanation from the reservationist that MATAplus does not provide same-day service.
In March MATAplus reported 5 denials and in April they reported 0 denials; however, the Director of MATAplus, Steven Fields could not define a trip denial at the April STAC meeting. It seems clear that MATA does not have an understanding of capacity constraints and is incorrectly reporting performance to make the system look better while they are failing to understand trip denials and capacity constraints.
Customers on the other hand do not have the bias of the MATA administration. They also understand and can express their expectations of the paratransit system.
There were 181 responses over the three weeks of the survey. MCIL created a survey tool on the web that was intended to capture information about actual performance and times over the duration of the survey. The accessible tool gathered all the responses of the survey participants but it was MCIL staff that did the data entry for each day of the survey.
MCIL asked 12 people and eventually trained 9 MATAplus customers to report on the paratransit survey each day for three weeks. The survey only covered paratransit Demand Response trips. The MATA paratransit also provides transportation on a Subscription basis. The MATA website explains this service as:
SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE - Many MATAplus customers establish travel patterns to and from the same locations, during the same days and hours, at least three days per week. These individuals are offered a subscription service that does not require them to make any further reservations, except to cancel a trip or to make an additional reservation. The subscription service is offered Monday-Saturday and is restricted to work, medical and educational trips. Once approved for the service, subscription customers will confirm desired days and travel times with a MATAplus reservation agent.
MATAplus may not provide more than half of the service as subscription and cannot have capacity constraints that will prevent an eligible rider from getting the trip they request from the demand response half of the service. The survey focused on the ability of MATAplus to provide service to people who reserve that service from one to three days in advance.
Survey participants almost exclusively reserved trips three days in advance. Although MATAplus stated that they would make a reservation on a request one day before the ride, participants did not believe that they would be granted a reservation. MATAplus riders report that the later they call about making a reservation, the less chance they have of getting the requested time. Riders said that calling late, one or two days before the needed trip, they will be told by MATAplus staff that “they are booked up.” One survey participant reported they were able to get a reservation two days in advance and another said that they attempted to get a ride the next day but were flatly denied.
Each day MCIL staff called the survey participants and recorded the responses to four general questions:
If the survey participant responded that they did not “call to arrange one or more rides on MATAplus yesterday” the MCIL staff made that note and proceeded on to the next question. However, if the surveyor did schedule a ride they were additionally asked:
The MCIL staff recorded the responses and if the surveyor said they were not able to make the reservation they first asked for the MCIL staff additionally asked:
The MCIL staff recorded these responses and continued to the second question; did you ride MATAplus yesterday? If the surveyor did not ride, the MCIL staff made note and continued to question three. If the surveyor did ride MATAplus, the rider was asked if the bus was on time to take you to to the destination?
The individual MATAplus patron was allowed by the survey to determine what “on time” referred to. Many surveyors used the MATAplus 30 minute service window to calculate what on-time was to them. These riders in the survey seem to build a 30-minute buffer of time for transportation so that they are prepared for the bus to arrive a half-hour after the appointment time. They would assess lateness as beyond the MATAplus 30-minute service window.
If the rider reported that the bus was not on-time, the MCIL staff would ask: “How many minutes late or early was the bus?” MCIL staff would record that time in minutes and ask the surveyor if the bus was on time for the return. Again, only if the rider said the bus was not on time, the MCIL staff would ask how many minutes late or early was the bus and record that information.
The surveyor who rode on MATAplus was asked “Overall, were you satisfied by the whole trip and service of MATAplus? This question was intentionally general and let the surveyor include the reservation, service and time in contemplating a response.
Each surveyor received information on how to make a complaint about MATAplus service and each day the survey asked: “Did you make a complaint about MATAplus yesterday?”
For those patrons who did say they made a complaint, MCIL staff additionally asked: “Do you feel MATAplus is responsive to your complaints?”
The final question allowed surveyors to provide a narrative about positive and negative things that occurred in their interaction with MATAplus. MCIL staff asked if there was anything to note from MATAplus. MCIL staff recorded a brief summary from the surveyor that ranged from the phone reservation system, phone calls and hold times to bus operation and suggestions from bus operators.
On days that respondents called MATAplus for a reservation, 84.6% said they were satisfied with the service of the reservationist. The survey additionally asked respondents about the day of the ride if they were satisfied overall with the service of MATAplus. This question, asked to each respondent following the reservation and trip returned only a slightly lower satisfaction rate of 81.6%.
The qualifying question asked each day to the respondent was “Did you call to arrange one or more rides on MATAplus yesterday?” Typically data phonecalls were made in the morning to reflect all the the daily interactions with MATAplus for a single day. The survey asked respondents about their interaction with MATAplus on the previous day, and did not require detail if the respondent did not call MATAplus on that day. Therefore, if the rider did not call to arrange a paratransit trip on the previous day, the survey jumped directly to questions about the riding the bus on that day.
To the respondents, the initial question about calling to arrange a ride was further defined by asking if they were satisfied by the reservationist. The question about overall satisfaction was only asked if the respondent had ridden MATAplus that day, but generally seems to include both the reservation and service.
Since MATA does not report a satisfaction rate, the MCIL Customer Survey is unique in this reporting area.
Respondents making a reservation were asked: “Were you able to make the reservation you first asked for?” This question was intended to show the rate of trip negotiations that are allowed for paratransit reservations. Nearly seventy percent of respondents were able to get the reservation time they first requested.
Once the patron had asked for a pick-up time, less than a third (30.3%) reported that MATAplus did offer alternative times for a trip on that day. This seems in keeping the the negotiation that the ADA Paratransit rules allow, but the survey did not record if the alternative times were within one hour of the requested time.
The ADA attempts to make paratransit service comparable to the service of the fixed-route system. The negotiations are allowed, however if the transportation provider cannot make the reservation within an hour of the requested time, the trip should be considered a trip denial. MCIL was able to learn that the interim Director of MATAplus did not know the definition of a trip denial and was not properly recording or reporting them during the time of the survey.
FROM THE MATAplus RIDER’S GUIDE: Any trip that is more than one hour from the requested pick-up time is considered a trip denial under the ADA.
MATAplus also makes use of not informing riders about the system. Although the printed Rider’s Guide says it is on the MATA website, it was not available at anytime during the survey. MATAplus Rider’s are given a printed Rider’s Guide when they are certified, but those guides are not updated and even the current printed guide is obviously out-of-date. The result of uninformed riders empowers the paratransit providers to ignore responsibilities. In this case the narratives during the survey seem to show that MATA staff simply told riders that no trips were available. That statement also was not reported as a trip denial and no negotiations were made. Additionally, when riders were offered a time more than an hour from the requested time, MATA staff either did not report it as a trip denial or labeled the call a trip refusal.
MATAplus Rider’s Guide published on the MCIL website: https://sites.google.com/site/mcilaction/mpridersguide
The survey also asked if respondents who reported they did not get the first time they asked for if they
were put on a waiting list. The survey included this question because MATA had just revealed that the paratransit system was using a “waiting list.” Although MATA provides no detail on how the waiting list works, senior management explained that reservations that could not be kept at the time they were made, would be reevaluated and added to the trip manifest if there were cancellations on the day of service. MATA administration called this “Same Day Service” even though the reservations were likely put on the waiting list three days before the date of the request.
MATAplus reported that there were 40 Same Day Service trips in March and that had expanded to 2,369 the next month i
of 2016. Note that these trips are requested, but the paratransit system does not report how many total patrons are put on a “waiting list.” If you do agree to the list, the procedure seems to be to call on the day of service to report the time to expect the ride. This procedure leaves out people making alternate plans and how many people on the waiting list go unserved and unreported.
MCIL believes that the waiting list is a capacity constraint and not allowed by the regulations. MATA has no written policy on the procedure and is using it to seemingly report compliance with the ADA.
Only 16% of respondents reported that they were put on a waiting list.
The MCIL MATAplus Customer survey asked respondents if they rode MATAplus. If the respondent said yes, the survey asked additional detail about the service MATAplus for that day.
Seventy-four percent of riders said the bus was on time to take them to their destination and 78% reported that the bus was on time for the return trip. This is the largest gap with the MATAplus service reporting. The MATA Monthly Operation STAC Report claimed that MATAplus On Time Performance was 90.00% in March and 93.12% in April of 2016.
Riders were allowed to use their own definition of “on time” for the survey. Clearly, in most instances, it is the customer that determines what “on time” really means. Even with this fluid definition, most respondents used the concept of a “30 minute service window” to evaluate the on time performance for the survey.
Because MATAplus asks its customers to give the bus a service window of a half-hour on the planned pick-up time, most of the respondents were familiar with working this 30 minutes into their plans each day. Even with this liberal concept of on time, riders did note that MATAplus was late a quarter of the time.
Only those respondents that answered the bus was late, were asked how many minutes late. The survey found that MATAplus averaged 39 minutes late for the original pick-up; and 34 minutes late on the return trip. No respondent made a significantly high record of late pick-up times, they were distributed among all the respondents.
It is also interesting to note that there is a higher satisfaction rate than on time percentage. This would seem to indicate that riders have come to expect the paratransit system to be late some of the time and they do not always fault MATAplus.
The survey additionally asked respondents if they made a complaint to MATAplus. This was a general question as it was asked even when riders did not call or ride the system. Only 8.2% of the time did the respondents say they made a complaint to MATAplus about the service. Of those who said they made a complaint, 84.6% did not believe that MATA was responsive to the complaint.