Pleasanton is contemplating some major changes to its paratransit service, though city officials reiterate it's still early in the public consideration process and no final decisions have been made.
The Pleasanton City Council last week endorsed the final "Mobility Forward" report, a consultant's analysis co-sponsored by the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority (LAVTA) to study paratransit services across the southern Tri-Valley communities. The document concludes with a handful of key recommendations, including for Pleasanton to shift service for adults with disabilities to LAVTA and refocus its in-house program to seniors-only.
Though there is likely months of public debate before any of those proposals reaches a final vote before the council and LAVTA, city leaders are clear that the time to have those conversations is now in order to protect the viability and enhance the quality of paratransit in Pleasanton without reducing service levels for users.
"We're at a point in time when we look at (LAVTA's) cost per trip versus our cost per trip, it's just not even close. And it's time for maybe the responsibility to shift to LAVTA," Councilman Jerry Pentin, one of the city's representatives on the LAVTA Board of Directors, said during the May 7 council meeting.
The Tri-Valley paratransit study, led by consultant firm Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, Inc. with support from city and LAVTA staff over the past two years, included service data review, stakeholder input and industry analysis to determine the best options for paratransit services in Pleasanton, Sunol, Livermore and Dublin going forward.
The city-operated Pleasanton Paratransit Services (PPS) offers transportation for seniors who are 70 years old or older and for adults with disabilities. The rides include door-to-door service and group trips Mondays through Fridays from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
LAVTA, which provides paratransit for Livermore, Dublin and unincorporated Tri-Valley through its Wheels Dial-A-Ride program, also fills PPS' off-hours gap or steps in when Pleasanton has reached maximum capacity during normal hours. Unlike Pleasanton's service, LAVTA paratransit only offers rides to disabled adults, but the daily service window is longer.
LAVTA is also fresh off winning the statewide Outstanding Transportation Agency of the Year Award for 2019 from the California Association of Coordinated Transportation.
The consultants found that residents who use Pleasanton paratransit are very happy with the service, but ridership has been down significantly in recent years, according to Richard Weiner from Nelson/Nygaard. On the flip side, the city's operating costs have nearly doubled since 2011-12 and remain well above LAVTA's Wheels Dial-A-Ride per-passenger rate.
In addition to high costs, other concerns for Pleasanton paratransit include driver retention, data reporting inconsistencies and the fact the city makes a significant financial contribution to fund the service, according to Weiner.
As a result, the "Mobility Forward" report reaches three key conclusions to improve paratransit in Pleasanton.
Leading the way is the recommendation to transfer Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service from the city to LAVTA -- a proposal that still needs to be vetted and approved by both agencies' governing bodies.
In addition to the funding question, that move would primarily address the problem that PPS service to ADA-eligible riders not does not fully meet all federal requirements, as well as it would allow Pleasanton to return to its core mission of serving local seniors, according to the consultants.
In line, the report's second recommendation is to refocus PPS as a city-based program for older adults only.
As part of that restructuring, the consultants urge Pleasanton to investigate alternative service delivery models, implement new operational efficiency options, revise its data collection and monitoring practices, and update its service policies.
The final recommendation for Pleasanton calls for the city, in partnership with LAVTA, to implement a Tri-Valley coordinated transit strategy for seniors and people with disabilities.
The City Council members were generally receptive of the report and recommendations during their initial review on May 7, expecting more in-depth discussions of concrete proposals in the months ahead.
Mayor Jerry Thorne said he wanted to make sure shifting Pleasanton's ADA service wouldn't overburden LAVTA -- something Vice Mayor Karla Brown, Pleasanton's other representative on the LAVTA board, didn't seem too concerned about at an initial glance.
The LAVTA board is scheduled to review the "Mobility Forward" report at its regular meeting on June 3.
"We are eager to continue our partnership with LAVTA as we analyze the recommendations offered in the study and develop potential strategies for both governing bodies to consider later this year," City Manager Nelson Fialho said in a statement after the council meeting.