Fraud on Wheels: D.C.’s Privatized Paratransit Service

Source: Jeremy Mohler, Capital & Main, July 15, 2016

Transportation is the backbone of a thriving and sustainable economy. Therefore, a public transit system should be judged by how it treats those that need it most, especially people with disabilities and our most marginalized communities. The question we should ask is this: Can everyone get where they need to go — to their job, school or the grocery store? If they can’t, then handing over control of public transit to the lowest bidder should be out of the question— for example, a private company, aiming to profit, doesn’t share this public purpose. … News broke last week that a private company transporting people with disabilities in Washington, D.C., billed the government for almost $200,000 in services it never provided. The paratransit contractor, MV Transportation, which even billed for transporting people who had long since died, chalked the fraud up to “billing errors.”  But MV Transportation’s issues are typical of a contractor cutting corners to increase profits. Is it a “billing error” when some paratransit drivers in D.C., because they are paid so little by contractors, have to rely on public assistance to keep afloat? … In the era of “smaller government,” every dollar counts. Just this week, a popular feature of D.C.’s paratransit service was dramatically cut back because of funding issues. As we detailed in In the Public Interest’s latest report, Cutting Corners, contractors regularly harm the public, workers and the environment in pursuit of profit. Across a variety of public goods and services, and at every level of American government, companies put their bottom lines above the public purpose of providing middle-class jobs and quality services to everyone. …

Related:

Investigators say MetroAccess contractor billed agency for picking up customers who had died
Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post, July 6, 2016

A Metro contractor billed the transit agency for MetroAccess services it did not provide– including transporting customers who had died, according to a settlement announced Wednesday. In a lawsuit filed in February 2013 and settled in May of this year, MV Transportation also was accused of charging Metro for the use of wheelchair-accessible vehicles on trips taken by customers who did not need wheelchairs.  The rate for trips that require wheelchair-accessible service is $65, nearly twice as much as non-wheelchair trips. MV Transportation agreed to pay $184,000 for the “billing errors” but it did not admit to any wrongdoing, company spokeswoman Nikki Frenney-Wiggins said in a statement. … Officials on Wednesday announced they had reached the settlement agreement, resolving the claims that the contractor falsely billed Metro between Jan. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2013. During that time, Metro paid MV about $168 million for providing paratransit services in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the company. …

MetroAccess Workers Protest Private Contractor
Source: Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO, July 22, 2015

…According to the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents more than 400 Transdev employees at this location, the company pays poverty wages, starting as low as $13.14 per hour. This sort of low-paying work combined with Transdev’s other inhumane demands, the union says, creates a toxic workplace with high turnover, resulting in poorer service for riders.