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TARC riders speak out against bus service changes and reductions

A TARC bus next to a building's awning
Jewél Jackson
Amid steep budget cuts, TARC has assured riders that TARC3, the transit service for people with disabilities, will not be impacted.

With TARC expected to make cuts and adjustments to its bus routes by the end of June, community members are speaking up about the changes and sharing their other concerns.

By the end of the month, TARC is expected to eliminate three bus routes and alter 19 others. Following the changes, TARC officials hosted an open house meeting Tuesday for Louisville residents to learn more about the changes. With another meeting set for Wednesday evening, TARC riders and disability advocates are speaking out against the impending service reductions.

Keeping up with growth

With Louisville tourism and business ventures on the rise, some Louisville residents wonder if public transportation can keep up.

“I love Louisville. We're rich in tourism….We're beautiful and we're growing. But our transportation needs to grow, too,” said TARC rider Deborah O’Gorman during the open house meeting Tuesday.

Bus routes on National Turnpike, Outer Loop, River Ridge, Chamberlain Lane and in west Louisville are among the routes that will be discontinued come June 30. O’Gorman said these cuts would impact commuters.

University of Louisville librarian Anita Hall said she uses Route 21 at Chestnut Street — which will be adjusted by next month — to commute to work.

“It's been under-discussed how much of an impact in such a short time this is going to have on people who rely on transit to get around,” she said Tuesday.

Under a previous proposal, TARC would have scaled back bus services by next January.

Concerns for TARC3 paratransit

TARC3, the city’s paratransit service for people with disabilities, isn’t directly operated by the agency. It’s contracted out to Dallas-based MV Transportation. TARC and TARC3 have separate driver pools.

To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, TARC3 needs to serve people who cannot ride regular TARC buses. But not all people with disabilities are eligible to ride TARC3, and riders have to go through an application process to determine eligibility.

While TARC officials said TARC3 paratransit services will not be affected by the route changes, some disability advocates are still concerned about what impacts there could be on riders with disabilities.

Amanda Stahl is a wheelchair user who has a physical disability and heads the Louisville-based disability rights advocacy group Independent Seekers Project, which focuses on disability justice and offers support groups.

She rides a regular TARC bus and takes the #4 Fourth Street route. She said she did not learn about the changes from the agency, but instead from media coverage.

Stahl told LPM News in an interview she was concerned about the route changes for regular TARC buses and the lack of targeted communication towards riders with disabilities.

“They cut one thing, and it's gonna hurt the whole group of people with disabilities regardless. It's gonna hurt everyone. It's gonna hurt people with disabilities,” she said.

Stahl also worries about the impacts on seniors with disabilities and working class people who don’t have access to a car or social support.

Meeting attendee O’Gorman said she has dealt with epilepsy for most of her life. She now teaches other residents with disabilities how to ride TARC and TARC3 routes. She said she is worried about the riders she trained who are waiting for approval to ride under TARC3.

“People with neurological [disabilities], people with Parkinson's or migraines, they can't drive,” she said. “And they need this system while they're waiting for [approval], which could take a year to two years.”

For more than twenty years, Park DuValle resident Gracie Lewis has used TARC3 services as her main mode of transportation. Lewis said she has COPD, which makes it difficult to walk. She also has other health issues and uses paratransit to travel to doctor’s appointments, church services and the grocery store.

She said her experiences with TARC3 ride-sharing have been “a nightmare.”

“They are going to try to get as many people as they possibly can in one vehicle,” Lewis said. “In the meantime, you're riding around from place to place, and that's making you later to get to whatever location that you're going to.”

Lewis said she is often 30 minutes to an hour late for appointments if she uses TARC3.

“They don't consider that when they organize the ride,” she said. “People don't mind sharing a ride, if they're going in a similar direction.”

On her commute, Lewis said, the TARC3 driver will often pass her dropoff location on the way to pick up other TARC3 riders.

Advocate Stahl said people with disabilities have to plan weeks in advance for transportation, and a missed or late bus could throw their schedule off. She calls this “the disability tax.”

“We even have to have somebody who's able to drive us somewhere or we have to be able to get public transportation or TARC3 to drive us somewhere. We can't jump in a car because our transportation is screwed up,” she said.

The budget shortfall

Alex Posorske, TARC’s marketing and communications director, said the current situation is not easy for TARC to solve with a looming fiscal cliff. He said the agency wants to hear from customers on how to improve communication.

“We're continuing to meet regularly, especially with advocates for individuals with disabilities. And we are taking notes, we are learning in every conversation, how we can make this better, how we can improve it?” he said.

Porsoske said TARC works closely with TAAC, or the TARC Accessibility Advisory Council. The council’s members advise the agency on public transportation plans, programs, accessibility needs and issues. The council is mandated by the ADA.

Larry Sloan, chair of the TARC Accessibility Advisory Council, said TARC’s crisis is not new, and many cities’ transportation systems struggle with financial headwinds because of the drop in ridership.

“The mayor has promised not to do anything to affect [TARC3]. And most of the people on our advisory council are saying, “OK, well, we'll take his word for it and see what happens,’” he said.

Sloan said TARC3 service has improved compared to previous years. But for him, the main concern is finding a new and permanent executive director who would implement and oversee major changes.

“Hopefully that executive director has experience in all the things that they need right now. Like changing their routing, and changing their scheduling and keeping paratransit going,” he said.

Some TARC riders are thinking about how TARC can fund its services in the future.

Marcellus Mayes is the president of the Louisville Metro Disability Coalition and a frequent TARC rider. During the open house Tuesday, he described TARC's service cuts as “appalling."

Mayes said he wants Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg to include public transit in the city budget.

“We can't have a progressive, forward thinking city and have a mayor — that wants to be supportive of all Louisvillians — not put transportation in his budget,” he said.

The board is expected to make $34 million in cuts over the next two years.

Lewis, the TARC3 rider, disagrees with some allocations in Greenberg’s proposed budget.

“The mayor had suggested in his budget that LMPD get a raise. And what I'm proposing is they take that raise and add that toward mass public transportation,” Lewis said. “Mass public transportation should be included in any thriving city's budget.”

Metro Council members are in the process of reviewing Greenberg’s budget proposal, and will pass a final version later this month. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The final open house meeting is Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Louisville residents can also submit their feedback online, by email or by calling TARC’s Customer Care Line at (502) 585-1234.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the TARC board has made cuts to bus services, rather than millions in budget cuts.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.
Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.

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