DART pass program in need of fuel

Posted on 07 Jun 2007 at 8:14pm
By John Wright Staff Writer

AIN budget cuts force waiting list; van service also scaled back



Steve Pace

Harvey White’s not sure what he’d do without the free bus passes he receives from the AIDS Interfaith Network.

The 40-year-old White, who lives in South Dallas, has been HIV-positive since 1990. And the bus is his only way to get around, including to his medical appointments.

“It would really hurt me,” White said. “I have to ride it every day, five days a week. This is a serious thing here.”

White is one of hundreds whose future mobility is threatened due to budget cuts at AIN, which have been caused by recent changes to a federal funding program.

AIN purchases and issues 14,000 DART passes each year. But Executive Director Steven Pace said if the agency can’t come up with a funding source by Sept. 1, it again could be forced to put people on a waiting list for passes from Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

That’s what AIN did in May, placing 400 clients on the list.

“That was the first time in transportation that we’ve had to do that,” Pace said of the waiting list. “It is a big deal, and it’s possible to happen again.”

Pace said the agency came up with some funds from Dallas County Health and Human Services to cover the next three months but has no permanent source to replace the roughly $200,000 in cuts to its transportation budget this year.

AIN has lost about $500,000 out of its total budget, or one-third, in the last two years due to changes under the Ryan White Treatment Modernization Act of 2006. This is because the updated act mandates that 75 percent of Ryan White money go to core medical services as opposed to support services like transportation.

In addition to the DART pass waiting list, AIN has had to scale back its Care-A-Van Service dramatically, said Edgar Carmona, associate executive director. AIN has gone from eight vans to five, and from eight drivers to four.

To make matters worse, a DART fare increase that takes effect Oct. 1 will cost AIN an additional $90,000 a year.

“We need now an increase of $90,000 just to keep the same service level,” Carmona said.

The changes and cuts have forced AIN to focus on getting clients to medical appointments rather than places like the food pantry, Carmona said.

The situation also has fueled anger and frustration among clients.

“Many of them are sad, many of the are concerned, and some get pissed,” Carmona said. “I don’t blame them. They are at a point in their lives where I would be pissed, too.”

On May 31, when AIN distributed DART passes for this June, there was pushing and shoving and a line stretching hundreds of feet out the door. Meanwhile, some clients, including White, are accusing others of abusing the passes.

“It shouldn’t fall on some of the good people who need them,” White said.

Carmona said rumors about abuse of passes have spread because frustrated clients are inclined to believe them.

“This has been caused by the crisis, clients turning against each other,” Carmona said.

Both Carmona and Pace said they’re working diligently to come up with a permanent funding source to replace the $200,000.

“Our goal is to overcome these things and to continue to provide this service,” Pace said. “It’s such a needed service. I want people to try to have confidence that our efforts are being put into overcoming these changes so we can ensure the long-term stability of this program.”

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 8, 2007.

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