Delaware Department of Transportation and Delaware Transit Corporation, the division of DelDOT that provides DART services, held five public forums up and down the state last month to get input from the public in regards to how the state's fixed route and paratransit services could be improved.
DelDOT has now created a plan for transit reform across the state.
One of the aspects of the proposed reform that fixed route riders would notice is an increase in fares. The fare increase would take effect over a two-year period. Effective Jan. 14, 2014, fixed route fares in New Castle County would increase from $1.15 to $1.50 and then would increase again to $2 in January 2015. In Kent and Sussex counties, fares would increase from $1 to $1.50 on Jan. 19, 2014 and to $2 in 2015.
Fixed route riders would also see an expansion in routes under the proposed plan, said Rich Paprcka, acting CEO of the Delaware Transit Corporation.
All weekday services would be extended in Kent County to 9 p.m.
In New Castle County, Sunday service would be added to bus route 40 and Sunday hours would be extended through 8 p.m. on routes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 15, 22 and 24. The redesign would also extend the reach of some routes, Paprcka said.
A set of proposed changes has also been created for the paratranist system. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, states are required to offer paratransit to those with a disability who live within three quarters of a mile of any established fixed route transit system. Up until this time, Delaware has delivered paratransit services unlike any other state, according Paprcka.
"Delaware treats the entire state as the ADA service area," Paprcka said. "We need to separate ADA from non-ADA service."
In the past DTC has offered paratransit service well outside of that three-quarter mile range, Paprcka said. They have also automatically extended paratranist service to anyone over the age of 65 in Kent and Sussex counties, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.
The need for change in paratransit is also being fueled by rising costs, said Delaware Secretary of Transportation Shailen Bhatt.
"Paratransit cost us $15 million in 2000," Bhatt said. "This year it's going to cost us closer to $50 million. That is a 233-percent increase. When something increases 233 percent in price it restricts what you can do elsewhere."
Under the proposed changes, paratransit users across the board will also see fare increases, which will be implemented over a two-year period. Users who fall under ADA regulations will go from paying $2 to paying $3, as of March 2, 2014. They will begin paying $4 in March 2015.
Users who ride paratransit buses who are not protected by ADA regulations will go from paying $2 to paying $6 as of March 2, 2014. They will then begin paying $7 in 2015.
Page 2 of 2 - Services for those who fall under ADA protection will still receive service as they always have. Non-ADA riders would see several changes.
Eligibility for paratransit would change, for one. Anyone interested in paratransit would have to follow the application process. Those older than 65 years old would no longer be guaranteed service; DTC has proposed a separate seniors program for them. Conditional eligibility could also be implemented, Paprcka said.
"If someone has night blindness, maybe at night you're approved to use the system," he said. "However...during the day you wouldn't use the system."
DTC has also proposed expanding its no-show policy. Currently those who have been suspended from paratransit services for failing to meet their paratransit bus at a designated time can still utilize the service for medical trips. Under the redesign, that exemption would no longer exist.
Prioritization rules would also change. Under the ADA an ADA rider going to the store has to be treated the same as an ADA rider who is trying to get to a doctor's appointment. Non-ADA rides can be prioritized. Those trying to get to work or to the doctor may be given a seat at a particular time and someone who wants to take a leisure trip may be bumped to another time. But everyone will still get a ride, Bhatt said.
"Our commitment is that nobody who is currently riding this service is going to be denied service," he said. "Everybody who is on this service will still get a ride, it will just look a little different and they will pay more for it."
DTC has scheduled a series of public hearings throughout the state in order to hear comments from the public regarding these proposed changes. The proposed policy can be reviewed online at www.DartFirstState.com.