Council to increase funding for paratransit

Local agencies that provide rides to people with disabilities may get a little extra money next year. But it might not be enough to offset their rising costs or cover their estimated losses after years in which the city didn’t fully reimburse them.

The city’s proposed budget offered $360,000 more to several local agencies that provide transportation to people with disabilities. Now, Vice Mayor Sue Schlapp says she’d like to increase that by $400,000, getting the providers closer to breaking even on their expenses. Council members who heard the proposal earlier this week appeared to agree, and they plan to include it in the 2009-2010 budget, which the council will vote to adopt Tuesday.

The move comes after years in which the city didn’t fully reimburse local agencies for their services. The agencies estimated the city shorted them about $4.5 million, a number the city hasn’t confirmed or denied. To receive the federal funding that helps pay for all public transit, the city must provide transportation to people with disabilities. This requires specialized vans and pre-arranged pick-ups. The city says their cost per ride is about $21. The agencies do it much cheaper. The extra money Schlapp is advocating for would increase the city’s payment to those agencies from $6.50 per ride for those with wheelchairs to $10.50 per ride. Schlapp warned it still may not be enough, and that the agencies will likely request more reimbursement in coming years.

About 30 percent of paratransit rides are provided by the city, and the remaining 70 percent – about 250,000 rides each year – come from Catholic Charities, Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas, Envision, KETCH, ResCare and Starkey.