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DISABLED RIDERS WILL HAVE A CHOICE

PSTA clients who can't use a standard bus can call on one of four providers as of Oct. 1.

Disabled passengers unable to use the county bus system soon will be able to choose which company they want to travel with.

The new choice program, which goes into effect Oct. 1, will give disabled riders a choice of one of four companies: Yellow Cab, United Taxi, Care Ride or Wheelchair Transport. The rider can call the company directly or continue calling the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to be routed to one of the providers.

If riders are happy with the cab company they're currently using, they can continue using it, said Bob Lasher, PSTA spokesman. The new DART Choice program is designed to give riders an option. All prices will stay the same.

Lasher said registered DART riders will receive more detailed information in the mail.

The choice program was developed as the result of last winter's dispute with Yellow Cab over the amount the PSTA was supposed to pay for passengers in the DART, or Demand Response Transport program.

The program is set up for disabled people who are unable to use the regularly scheduled bus service. The passenger pays a co-pay, and PSTA pays the company for the remainder of the cost, an amount agreed upon by the bus service and the cab company.

PSTA intended Yellow Cab to be paid a total of $9.05 for most rides. PSTA would have paid the company $5.55 per ride. The remainder would come from the passenger co-pay of $3.50 per ride. But Yellow Cab, and other companies that bid on the contract, saw things differently. They thought PSTA was supposed to pay $9.05 per ride and the company would also get the passenger co-pay, for a total of $12.55 per ride. When added up, the difference is significant - about $875,000 per year for the estimated 250,000 DART rides.

PSTA officials said Yellow Cab threatened to walk off the job if the county bus system did not pay the $9.05. The PSTA did so while it tried to resolve the matter. The PSTA board decided a better solution was to allow choice, so the agency agreed to pay Yellow Cab the $9.05 until Oct. 1, when choice goes into effect. Once the program goes into effect, single-zone trips - those that stay within a set area - will cost $12.55. PSTA will pay $9.05 of that and the passenger's co-pay will be $3.50. Multizone rides will be $18, with $14.50 from the PSTA and a $3.50 co-pay. Trips in East Lake will also be $12.55, but the PSTA will pay $10.80 and the co-pay will be $1.75.

The choice program should have a couple of advantages over the old system: Passengers will be happier because they will not have to stick with service from a company that displeases them, and it will eliminate the possibility that one company could hold PSTA hostage by threatening to walk off the job in the event of a dispute.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450

Fast facts

If you need a ride

Demand-response services are provided wherever regular PSTA bus service is available. Areas not included: Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Kenneth City, Weedon Island and areas outside a three-quarter-mile dimension of regular bus routes. Service is not available outside Pinellas County. The fare for demand-response transportation is $3.50 per one-way trip. You can call up to a month before your scheduled trip to make a reservation, but no later than 5 p.m. the day before your trip. Reservations are taken from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays.

For information

Call (727) 540-1800. For ambulatory trip reservations, call (727) 540-1897. For wheelchair trip reservations, call (727) 540-1960.

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