Lynne Bronstein | Culver City Observer
After considering whether to have blind passengers pay a fare equivalent to disabled fare on Culver City busses, the City Council on July 14 decided to retain free bus rides for blind passengers while still charging 35 cents for disabled, Medicare, and senior bus fares.
The issue was raised after a disabled rider protested the policy of free rides for blind bus riders while people with other disabilities had to pay. The protester suggested to the city that the different fare policies for blind and disabled passengers might constitute a form of discrimination.
At a public outreach meeting held in June of this year, comments were made to the effect that the individual who raised this issue should take the approach of having his disability category approved to ride the bus for free.
Staff also encouraged those who might be impacted by the fare change to apply for an Access Services TAP card, which would allow them to ride for free under the Free Fare Partnership Program established with several of the municipal operators including Culver CityBus, or apply for Metro’s Rider Relief Transportation Program.
According to Culver City Transportation Director Art Ida, most cities charge the same fare for blind and disabled passengers. Of the cities that do not charge blind passengers, Torrance Transit has not made any change to its policy for the blind, Long Beach Transit is in the process of conducting research, and Gardena Transit recently changed its policy to charging blind and disabled passengers the same (reduced) fare after receiving a similar complaint.
Ida told the Council that allowing all disabled passengers including the blind, to ride for free, could result in a loss of $360,000 in fare revenue, with the loss of revenue leading to further financial loss in grant monies.
Staff recommendation was that fare for the blind be charged at the same rate presently charged for disabled and senior passengers-35 cents base fare, ten cents for a local transfer, 20 cents for an interagency transfer.
The passenger who filed the protest with the city was not present at the Council’s public hearing on the topic. But two passengers were present to state their views.
Ken Rubin, who wore his disabled access pass on a lanyard around his neck, suggested that if a fare was required for blind passengers, a 25 cent fare would be good for all disabled passengers. He didn’t think the issue should have been raised due to one person’s complaint.
Sammie Shipman, blind since birth, came to the public comment mike accompanied by her service dog Mozart.
“It’s very hard for us,” she said. “I am a frequent user of Culver City busses. The 35 cent fare [proposed] would be a lot easier for me if it were 25 cents. To get a single coin out of my purse- I carry a lot of stuff and I have my guide dog-is hard for me. We need our hands. We have to fumble in our pockets [to get a coin out.”]
In short, Shipman thought that if a fare for the blind was inevitable, that it should be a single coin-25 cents, rather than 35 cents.
Ida stated that the 35 cent fare proposed would be financially more sound as a 25 cent fare for all disabled people would result in some financial loss.
But council member Andrew Weissman thought that there was no reason to make a change to the present policy.
“This is pretty close to the old saying ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ ” he said. “Historically we have always had free fare for the sight-impaired.”
Mehaul O’Leary agreed, noting that he thought the proposal for a fare for blind passengers was “outrageous.”
“This [the one rider who complained] is someone who just wants to ride for free,” he added.
Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells said she was disappointed that the complainant had not shown up to speak or submitted a statement at the meeting.
Unanimously, the council voted for the record, to retain free rides for the sight-impaired and to charge 35 cents for all other disabled and senior passengers.
In other actions, the Council continued a public hearing item regarding the sale of land for development as a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) at the “triangle” at Washington and National at the Expo Line station.