Some disabled bus riders and advocates who are trying to fend off a paratransit fare hike rode a FrontRunner train from Salt Lake City to Ogden on Tuesday looking for a sympathetic ear.
Frustrated by the Utah Transit Authority's plan to bump paratransit fares from $2.50 to $4 and to halt van service beyond three-quarters of a mile from regular bus routes, 13 riders went to the office of Robert Hunter, UTA board member and United Way of Northern Utah president.
They chose Hunter, according to Barbara Toomer of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, because they believed his role with the United Way would make him sensitive to the concerns of the neediest Utahns.
"We feel it's a definite problem," Toomer said, "when he gives to the poor as United Way chair and then takes away from the poor with the UTA."
Reached after the meeting, Hunter said it was inappropriate to link his duties with the United Way and UTA. "They're two separate things."
Nonetheless, Hunter said he appreciates the difficulties the riders face, especially given that some had to negotiate the trains and buses for several hours to reach his office.
Hunter said he has not decided how to vote, though he found the meeting constructive. At first he felt "blindsided," he said, because he had expected only a couple of people. By meeting's end, though, he said he had gained perspective on their individual transportation challenges.
Toomer said several who met with Hunter have mental or traumatic brain disabilities and normally need dispatched paratransit vans to deliver them. They reached Hunter's office by train and then bus with the larger group's assistance.
UTA's board could vote on the paratransit proposal June 24 or July 22, spokesman Gerry Carpenter said. The agency is seeking to fill a budget gap created by declining sales-tax revenues -- money that the disabled riders propose could come instead from a 10-cent fare hike on all riders.