On the whole, users of paratransit programs funded by Measure B, Alameda County's half-cent transportation sales tax, say services have improved the past two years.
The highest marks were given to programs in Union City and Pleasanton, but riders in Hayward, Fremont and Newark were more likely to complain of not having their trip requests met or that the level of service is declining.
Such findings were part of a recent survey sponsored by the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
The survey found high user satisfaction with safety, driver courtesy and destination availability. Additionally, more people rated their most recent transit experience as "excellent" compared to two years ago, the last time a survey was conducted, and reported an increase in on-time arrivals since 2007.
"We're very pleased by the results," said Tess Lengyel, programs and public affairs manager for ACTIA. "There's been a lot of work that's gone into this kind of service. We have a body that looks over these kinds of (transit) programs. They provide a certain level of scrutiny "... to make sure we really provide good services for our growing senior citizen population."
Paratransit programs provide transportation to seniors and people with disabilities. The majority of riders use it to get to and from medical appointments and stores, though some also rely on it to take them to social centers, religious institutions and other places.
At 86 percent, Union City Paratransit had the highest percentage of riders polled who found its service to be "good" or "excellent" — 11 percentage points above the countywide score.
By law, cities that operate their own bus lines, as is the case in Union City, must provide paratransit programs with the same operational hours as the bus lines, limit how much it charges paratransit riders and follow other federally mandated guidelines that result in more options or flexibility for users, said Wilson Lee, Union City Transit manager.
That is probably why the Union City program had higher customer satisfaction, he said.
"I wouldn't say our transit is better. Every city does it differently. "... But we have to be very flexible," he said.
The Union City and Newark paratransit programs also tied at 96 percent for highest rate of vehicles arriving on time or early. Fremont, at 88 percent, fell somewhere in the middle of the 13 agencies that were ranked.
But Newark and Fremont riders also reported the greatest percentage of being turned down when they called to make a reservation.
In Hayward, 68 percent of riders — the second-lowest rate among the agencies included in the survey — found the overall paratransit program to be "good" or "excellent." Hayward also had the second-highest percentage of riders complaining that services had gotten worse in the past year.
A call to Hayward Paratransit was not returned by press time, but Lengyel speculated that declining revenue for the program in the past year played a role in the lower marks. "(Hayward Paratransit) has had to ratchet down what types of trips people can receive. They're focusing on medical and essential life needs," she said.
ACTIA hopes to use the survey results to help it identify opportunities for further collaboration and crossover of services between agencies, especially as the senior population grows.
ACTIA plans to conduct another survey in late 2011.
For the full survey report, visit www.actia2022.com and go to the March 25 board meeting agenda under the "Meetings and Events Calendar" link.
Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.
A recent survey compared the satisfaction rate of paratransit users in different agencies. The first figure is the percentage of respondents who found the service to be "good" or "excellent." The second figure were those who said service is fair, and the last figure found the service poor.
Source: Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority