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People with disabilities wonder what proposed paratransit changes will mean for them

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MADISON, Wis. - Proposed changes to Metro Transit's paratransit bus service in the Madison 2018 operating budget have some paratransit users worried they may not get the same level of service they're used to.

Because of a loss in $4 million in federal funds, the agency will no longer be able to provide some of its current services.

The agency is considering raising paratransit fares from $3.25 to $4, accepting only cash payments for rides instead of other billing options and making most of its services curb-to-curb rather than door-to-door.

Dozens of people with disabilities packed the city's Transit and Parking Commission meeting Wednesday night to learn about the changes.

One of them was Ann Marie Siedschlag of Madison, who uses a wheelchair and relies on Metro's paratransit services to get around.

"It means that I can get out and meet the world," Siedschlag said. "I get the freedom of going where I want to go, (I) don't have to depend on people."

Siedschlag said the potential loss of door-to-door service was one of her biggest concerns.

"If we don't have the door-to-door service, I don't know how we're going to get out, especially in the winter," she said.

Metro Transit spokesperson Mick Rusch said the agency understands residents' concerns.

"We understand (them) completely," Rusch said. "We understand there's going to be a lot of big changes coming up."

Rusch said Metro will continue to provide all of the services required to it by the Americans with Disabilities Act; a lot of its current paratransit services, he said, are "above and beyond" human services outside of its scope.

Rusch said with the expansion of the state's Family Care program into Dane County, it means some of the same roles Metro and its private partners had in paratransit will now be handled by managed care organizations.

"It's not so much cuts as it's been a re-allocation of funding," Rusch said. "With that implementation, the funding's just going to go in a different direction to provide services to these folks in a different way...they're going to contract with these same businesses, these same transit providers as we do, it's just going be done in a different way."

Rusch said the changes would be implemented over time in 2018 rather than all at once so people can adjust.

"We're going do our best to make it as painless and seamless as possible," he said.

Keith Wanta, a board member at Access to Independence, a disability organization in Dane County, said a lot of people in the disability community who rely on paratransit are hoping for the best when it comes to the changes.

"Life will go on, we'll adapt, but I think it's going to be a huge transition for many folks," Wanta said. "I think there's gonna have to be a lot of coordination here to make that happen."

Siedschlag said she hopes the city can figure out a way to make sure residents with disabilities can have the same level of services they're used to.

"I hope that this does work," she said.

For more information and frequently asked questions, visit Metro Transit's website.

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