A new mobility program will provide more options for people needing assistance with transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores and other critical activities.
The program was introduced and unanimously approved at Wednesday’s Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors meeting. It’s scheduled to roll out in July.
The PSTA is responsible for determining eligibility for people seeking paratransit, said PSTA CEO Brad Miller, and the process has always been the same.
“Essentially, you’d get a note from your doctor that said you had a disability, and 100 percent of people who turned in an application were approved,” Miller said. “We never talked to the applicants. We sent their names over to Care Ride and they would provide them with door-to-door trips to wherever they needed to go. We didn’t have any type of control or understanding for the demand for this service.”
The initiative will help turn PSTA’s popular Mobility on Demand pilot program and its other mobility programs into permanent transportation solutions. And while everyone who applies for paratransit has been approved so far, the PSTA wants to go beyond simply approving or denying applications.
“Instead of giving applicants a yes or a no, the goal will be to give riders options and tailor those options to fit the rider’s needs,” said Bonnie Epstein, PSTA’s director of mobility services.
The PSTA’s new mobility team, made up of current staff members, will have personal consultations with applicants to learn about their transportation needs, make recommendations and educate them on how PTSA programs work. The mobility team will also follow up with applicants to make sure their needs are being met. While the plan is to conduct these meetings in person, they will initially be done over the phone due to COVID-19.
Transportation methods will include everything from PSTA buses to ridesharing. Applicants will be 100 percent approved for the best options to fit their needs.
During the meeting, the board also unanimously approved five-year contracts with Uber, Lyft and United Taxi to support PSTA’s Mobility on Demand program. The contracts are not to exceed $12.1 million during the five-year period.
City Council member Gina Driscoll praised the program and the PSTA’s efforts to provide transportation solutions for everyone without relying on a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“It’s a fantastic way to provide personalized options for more people,” she said.