Merrimack Valley Transit Pledges Faster Response to Complaints From Disabled Riders

MeVa Transit Administrator Noah S. Berger discusses free, standard buses in 2022 in Lawrence as U.S. Reps. Lori Trahan and Seth Moulton look on. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill-based MeVa Transit, formerly known as the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, was slow to investigate and respond to complaints by disabled riders over a two-year period ending Sept. 30, 2021.

State Auditor Diana DiZoglio’s office released its audit of the quasi-public bus operator last month, largely covering a period before Noah S. Berger became administrator. The audit centers on 25 complaints by those using paratransit service, a service accommodating wheelchairs and scooters, for example, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The state auditor’s office found seven of 25 people who filed complaints did not receive acknowledgements within the required 24 hours and six did not receive follow-up responses.

“By not ensuring that it follows required procedures for its ADA paratransit complaint process, MVRTA may not resolve significant issues regarding its transportation services in a timely manner or at all. This could negatively impact the quality of services that MVRTA provides its ADA-required paratransit customers,” auditors wrote.

The complaint system, like most aspects of the bus and van service, is handled by a private vendor that, under federal law, is required to manage the fleet. During the study period, the contractor was First Transit, acquired last October by France-based TransDev.

The transit authority told the state auditor it “did not always send acknowledgments on time because of limited personnel availability.” In addition, First Transit’s procedures lacked a requirement to complete a follow-up response.

Berger told WHAV “we take customer communication very seriously,’ noting contact information is available on the authority’s website. “We’re not hiding anything.” He added fixes were already underway before the state released its concerns.

“While the responsibility for processing complaints has changed hands a few times over the review period, we have since standardized the process and are now reinforcing it. The meeting and plan for subsequent check-ins will ensure that we will all be on the same page and emphasize that this is a priority,” the agency told the state in its formal response. It pledges “all complaints will be handled within 24 hours and that all complainants get calls back.”

The special service for individuals with disabilities does not rely on the bus company’ standard routes and services, but rather offers an on-demand system that is “comparable to the level of service provided to individuals without disabilities who use the fixed route system.”

The auditor noted statewide bus and van service by the 15 regional transit authorities is paid by both federal and state dollars with state payments statewide around $94 million last year.

In addition, the state auditor’s office listed cybersecurity as a concern, but withheld specifics so as to not “jeopardize public safety.”

Comments are closed.