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Westmoreland County Transit Authority takeover of paratransit services not smooth

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 11:27 p.m.

Six weeks after a takeover of transit services for elderly, low-income and handicapped riders, the Westmoreland County Transit Authority is still struggling to operate the program.

Potential riders still have long wait times to schedule rides, county transit officials said, but slowly the service is improving.

“All we can do is try to do better and, hopefully, we will clean it up,” authority board member Robert Seiler said last week.

The transit authority took over operation of countywide paratransit services on July 1. In doing so, the authority put a standardized rate structure in place. The price of some rides increased, while others decreased.

The transition has been anything but smooth. The first week of the service was marred by telephone line problems that caused potential passengers to be disconnected as they attempted to schedule rides.

“The transition has just been the pits. The whole thing has been really frustrating for everybody,” said Julia Martin, owner of Byers Taxi, the cab company that serves the authority program in the northern region of Westmoreland County.

The phone glitches have been resolved, authority Executive Director Larry Morris said, and the wait times for people scheduling rides has decreased. The average wait time on the phone was nine minutes in mid-July. Morris said that the time was cut to about six minutes by last week.

“No, I am not happy with it, but we're getting better every day,” Morris said.

The authority fields an average of about 400 calls a day to schedule rides. July and August ridership numbers for the paratransit system are not yet available, Morris said.

The county takeover of the system meant that riders have to call the authority to schedule trips rather than individual taxi companies that are contracted by the authority to provide the rides. Riders previously scheduled rides directly with the taxi companies.

Transit officials said the takeover of the system has been a huge undertaking.

The authority last week agreed to buy nearly $15,000 worth of office furniture to accommodate a call center that had to be set up to handle the increased volume of calls at its Greensburg headquarters. Six operators are on duty fielding calls weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Authority board members renamed the paratransit service Go Westmoreland, which will be used on advertising and other materials associated with the program.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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