MEO working to resolve paratransit issues

Let me begin by acknowledging and apologizing for the inconvenience and anxiety that the transition in paratransit has caused for our clients and our staff. They are very important to Maui Economic Opportunity, and we have been hard at work to eliminate any such problems in the future.

Recently, the Maui County Council Committee on Housing, Human Services and Transportation held an informational hearing to review MEO’s paratransit program. While the news headlines were attention grabbing, they did not provide an opportunity for the views of MEO to be fully reported as MEO Chief Programs Officer Debbie Cabebe had presented them in writing and in verbal testimony before the committee.

In her testimony, Cabebe spoke to the concerns that had been expressed by our riders during an admittedly difficult transition from the former paratransit vendor to MEO. Unfortunately, a number of their concerns about which they testified had not been brought to MEO’s attention until the hearing. However, each one deserved to be heard, and we are working with those individuals to ensure that they receive excellent service, which is our overriding goal at MEO.

First, a brief overview of some of the challenges that have been overcome:

During the initial MEO implementation process, it was discovered that clients had previously been receiving a one-on-one service and many accommodations to the Americans with Disabilities Act contract were being made. This type of service is very costly; MEO combined rides to promote efficiency and reduce operating costs.

In May, MEO begin recruiting and hiring staff. From June to the present, MEO has hired 30 drivers dedicated to paratransit. We also hired three auto technicians, one driver supervisor and three reservationists/dispatchers, and we are in the process of hiring two additional dispatchers to work on the weekends. We use an average of 19 drivers per day.

Two other challenges presented themselves as the service began to function properly in August. On Nov. 11, MEO instituted a new computer routing system – based on GPS codes and real time driving – to provide daily schedules on a timely basis and increase routing efficiency and improve service. Unfortunately, some of the GPS codes were incorrect and the system required additional driver and reservationist training and, as a result, rider complaints grew.

The system is now customized to the island of Maui, and as individual client concerns are identified we can research the root cause, learn the specific day, time and condition and make any correction to prevent it from happening in the future. Complaints have dropped to a handful, and our on-time pickup rate in December was 92 percent.

In the middle of all this, due to the large volume of calls we were receiving, our telephone system could no longer handle the capacity so we switched to a new system to handle up to 300 calls in an hour. As with any change, this too has caused some confusion. We are working with the vendor and staff to smooth out the wrinkles and anticipate this to be resolved by the middle of next month.

As we improve the paratransit service, MEO is happy to encourage regular dialogue with its riders. MEO will be holding quarterly riders’ meetings starting this month. These meetings will be open to any stakeholder who would like to participate. Many lessons have been learned, but MEO’s commitment and dedication to its clients and staff have remained consistent. This is our No. 1 priority, and we are working as one team to assure that we have the tools to be successful.

We have appreciated everyone’s patience and assistance during this transition.

* Lynn McNeff is the chief executive officer of Maui Economic Opportunity.