The Watchdog: On DART paratransit rides, customers complain of drivers who demean them

“Client states that vehicle was very unclean. Seats were wet and client later realized that she sat in urine.”

“Patron states the driver was very unclean. Patron’s words were ‘That driver needs to take a bath.’”

“Driver smelled of beer. Was going in and out of traffic. No working seatbelts. Driver was extremely rude.”

dart paratransit

I don’t know the names of the people whose complaints are summarized in today’s Watchdog report. Their words follow a subhead labeled “Customer Comments” on complaint forms about Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s paratransit system for the disabled.

These nameless riders have had their identities blacked out on the forms for privacy reasons. This was ordered by the Texas attorney general, who ruled that DART had to give me the forms I requested from May until August — more than a thousand.

The Watchdog asked for the forms to examine the customer service culture of MV Transportation, which holds the year-old contract with DART to run the paratransit system. How severe are the paratransit troubles, as reported by my colleagues, reporters Tom Benning and Brandon Formby?

DART fought the release of the complaint forms, telling the state attorney general in a letter, “The release of the complaints to the general public is of no legitimate concern to the public.”

I beg to differ, and when you read my sampling, you’ll see why.

As Benning previously reported, MV Transportation, which relocated its corporate headquarters to Dallas, paid $238,000 in penalties to DART for program flaws.

MV Transportation released a statement in the name of chief executive R. Carter Pate saying that DART and his company review complaints every week.

“We continue to make progress every month in the passenger complaint area,” the statement said. Company officials declined to sit with me for an interview.

DART said the complaints are raw information taken by dispatchers and have not been verified.


Under paratransit rules, disabled riders, some who use wheelchairs or require vehicle lifts, are certified to travel in scheduled trips in vans and taxis for a $3 fee. The service gives 2,500 rides a day and serves 11,000 riders.

Comments in the forms I received are summaries taken by DART customer service representatives about the callers’ laments. Here, in their own words, are samples of what they say:

“Client’s mother states the van was covered in ants. Caller states her daughter has lots of bites.”

“The driver was distracted. Client states the driver kept asking her for her telephone number and asking for a date. Client states she doesn’t want this driver to pick her up anymore.”

“Mother states that her son is in vehicle for over three hours.”

“The operator ran two stop signs in Garland.”

“Driver had their pants unzipped and the client feels that the driver looked dirty, sloppy and crazy.”

“The bus did not show.”

“Driver on his cell phone.”

“Vehicle ran out of gas.”

“Customer rode the paratransit vehicle for about three hours and never made it to his destination.”

“Customer was scheduled to be picked up at 12:37 and didn’t get picked up until three hours later.”

“Client states that operator asked her if she went to bed with all her boyfriends and continued to make comments on her body and made her feel very uncomfortable.”

“Operator was driving unsafe and client fell out of her seat. … Operator offered no assistance.”

“The destination was two miles away and instead was driven around for two hours due to overbooking.”

“The taxi was very overcrowded. About six people. Client states she called dispatch and was placed on hold for 30 minutes.”

“Driver stated, ‘I do not get enough money to help you get into the cab.’ Husband’s blood pressure went up to 200.”

“Driver was speeding over bumps and would not respond to her when she asked him to slow down because she has a bad back. Customer states driver was very rude and was driving very reckless while talking on the phone the whole time.”

“Operator arrived at location with pants sagging and appeared to be drunk. … Operator drove over cones in main entrance driveway and drove over speed bumps speeding.”

Doug Douglas, a DART vice president, says paratransit drivers have taken two mandatory “refresher” courses since MV Transportation won the contract with a bid of $186 million for seven years.

“Things are getting better every day,” he says. “We have not had any regression. The complaints you have are raw. They have not been validated. We have commendations regarding service as well.”

To be fair, I found this in the stack of a thousand pages: “Driver very kind. Helps customer with lift. He pulled the strap behind customer and secured her. Very timely. Customer got to church in good time. He is real nice.”

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