Port Arthur woman questions access to paratransit service; city reevaluating options

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Melissa Charlot never fathomed she’s lose more than her sight after her diagnosis of a genetic condition; now she’s battling the loss of independence as she is no longer eligible to ride Port Arthur’s paratransit bus.

The city resident was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which is robbing her of her eyesight, and since 2018 has been using the paratransit service to get around Port Arthur.

Charlot recently learned she is no longer qualified after municipal officials noticed a discrepancy in the paratransit boundaries.

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“I am simply trying to shed light on the mental struggles, severity of this situation and find a solution to keep me afloat,” she told the Port Arthur City Council this week. “I am not asking for any special treatment. I am simply asking to live with accommodations and the resources that are given to me so I can still function as if my disability doesn’t exist.”

Charlot was notified in late December that as of this month she is no longer eligible to use the paratransit services.

Ivan Mitchell, director of transportation, said this was not due to a policy change but was born from the discovery of a clerical error that incorrectly made Charlot’s address within the boundaries.

Mitchell said it was noted a few people in Port Acres were on the list but should not have been. The issue was reviewed, the error realized and the database cleaned up, according to Mitchell.

The problem

While the city has fixed bus routes, officials also receive federal funding for paratransport that extends three-fourths of a mile from the fixed route ending.

Charlot’s address is beyond that extension.’

Mitchell said a solution isn’t as easy as moving the fixed route to include Charlot’s address.

“Our bus routes currently run a very, very tight schedule,” he said. “Transfer connections. Most of our transfers occur at the public library and right here downtown. To extend the route means additional time on that specific route. For me to change a route, I’m throwing off systemwide time transfers.”

There is some leeway in the scheduling for traffic issues, but under the current system, to extend the route, would require resources in terms of an additional bus and drivers, Mitchell said.

Councilman Harold Doucet asked if there is a van or other resources available for individuals needing this type of transportation.

Mitchell explained Charlot’s city address does not qualify for additional services.

Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III said when elected officials receive calls and media questions on these types of issues, their job is to find a solution.

Mitchell said there’s no other options as of now for residents in certain portions of the city that don’t fit within the single, dedicated paratransit route.

He used Sabine Pass as an example, saying Sabine Pass does not have bus service.

Seeking a solution

The next step is a meeting to see what needs to be done and to research a solution, City Attorney Val Tizeno suggested.

Mayor Thurman Bartie asked Charlot and other impacted residents to give the city 30 days to gather information in order to correct the problem.