Wednesday, September 05, 2007


A Los Angeles paratransit eligible citizen can ride the MetroLink train from Santa Ana to San Clemente (both in Orange County) and pays no fare while an Orange County paratransit eligible citizen boarding the same train at the same time pays 50% of the full fare?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Appointment to CA OES Specialist Committee


(916) 845-8506 -
FAX: 845-8511

May 1, 2007


Dear Mr. Austin:

Welcome and thank you for choosing to serve on one or more of the SEMS Specialist Committees. Your perspective will add an invaluable element to statewide emergency management and planning. You have been selected from the list of nominees to be a representative of the community of people with disabilities to one or more of the committees.

The specific SEMS Specialist Committee you have been assigned to is:
1) Volunteer Services

You will soon be notified of an upcoming orientation day which will consist of; a short tour of the State Operations Center (SOC); an introduction to the state’s emergency management organization; and a presentation on the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) as well as the roles and responsibilities of the SEMS Specialist Committees within the SEMS Maintenance System.

Please fill out the enclosed Reasonable Accommodation Request Form and return it by Thursday, May 17, 2007 to; Attention: Carolyn Moussa, Preparedness Branch, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, 3650 Schriever Avenue, Mather, CA 95655.

Expenses for your travel will be processed for reimbursement according to the Travel Expense Claim (TEC) you submit to OES following the meeting(s). It is important that you acknowledge your acceptance of this position by calling Moustafa Abou-Taleb, Program Manager, at 916-845-8791 or email to

Thank you and I look forward to working with you in the near future.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Emegency Preparation Tip Homeland Security

You should have at least one traditionally wired landline phone, as cordless or cellular phones may not work in an emergency.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Spirit of Progress

Man’s hopes and thoughts and customs have changed. Our powers and achievements have become fantastic. Progress- it is one face of our country and our community which defines how we choose to live.

Yet today we face obstacles that challenge our dreams- specifically the struggle to overcome and end the devastating effects of MS.

The announcement of a virtuous idea can not exhaust our responsibility. It is a call that ignites hope. It reaches out from our heritage and our natural instinct.

The time to be free begins today. It is our right to live as one. It starts from the will of a group of free minded people. They share in the idea. They become engaged by a spirit of daring, the desire to break new ground, the promise in the legacy of our forbearers.

With a sense of style and sense of grace contact with the goal will remain true and genuine. Daily we are reminded that we can do better, that we can be better, and we can raise ourselves up and those around us. The quest to succeed is as common a theme and as old as civilization- the quest for equality, diversity and freedom.

In pursuit of our passion we drive onward. A journey fueled by human dignity as the source of purpose, human liberty as the source of action, the human mind as the source of invention.

It is good that we try until all of our capacities have been explored. Strength is in the faith, devotion, and energy brought forth to meet this challenge. Not as a creed or fixed promise but in an attitude and the belief in justice and in community.

MS is a story that needs to be told. More importantly, it is the story of hope, of promise, of possibility. It is a story with a great finish. It is a story that is cherished, that is revered. It is inside all of us, in our minds and in our hearts.

Mitsubishi Motors MS 150 Team Webpage

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Letter from Senator Diane Feinstein re: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007

Dear Mr. Austin:

Thank you for contacting me to express your support for embryonic stem cell research. I appreciate the time you took to write and welcome the opportunity to respond.

At the dawn of this new era in medicine, I believe it is important to support medical research that offers hope for those living with serious diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis. While I oppose human reproductive cloning, I strongly support stem cell research, which has the potential to spur medical innovation and new medical treatments.

On April 11, 2007, the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007" (S. 5), passed the Senate by a vote of 63-34. I was proud to be an original cosponsor and strong supporter of this bill. It would also allow Federal funding for research conducted on stem cell lines left over from invitro fertilization clinics, which I believe is an important step in advancing biomedical research. This legislation must now be reconciled with the House of Representatives "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007," (H.R. 3), which passed by a vote of 253-174 on January 11, 2007. I will keep your support for this legislation in mind as I continue to advocate for passage of a final version of this legislation.

Again, thank you for writing. I have included my floor statement on Stem Cell research for your review. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Statement of Senator Dianne Feinstein
In Support of S. 5
March 23, 2007

"Mr. President, I rise in support of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 that is known as S. 5. It is really the only bill of the two that will allow scientists to fully pursue the promise of stem cell research.

I want to particularly thank Senators Harkin and Specter, Kennedy and Hatch, who have been in the leadership of this issue for the past several Congresses. I also want to point out, in the case of the distinguished Senator from Utah, he is very pro-life. I have listened to him over these many years. I have listened to the real wisdom he has espoused on this issue. I hope more people will pay attention to him because I think he is right with respect to this issue.

On August 9, 2001 -- that is 6 years ago -- President Bush limited Federal research funding to 78 stem cell lines already in existence. Nearly 6 years have passed, and in that time two things have happened. First, most of these 78 stem cell lines are no longer available for scientific work. Many lines developed abnormalities and mutations as they aged. Only 21 lines are available today. These lines are all contaminated with mouse feeder cells and therefore are useless for research in humans. They do not have the diverse genetic makeup that is necessary to find cures that benefit all Americans, and researchers cannot use them to examine rare and deadly genetic diseases.

This was, in fact, the President's policy. It is now clearly established that policy does not work, that policy is moribund. Yet the President will not relent and Federal research on stem cells cannot go forward. Secondly, public support for stem cell research -- full-blown stem cell research -- has grown. Sixty-one percent of Americans responding to a poll in January of this year support embryonic stem cell research. This is also a bipartisan issue. Fifty-four percent of Republicans in an ABC News poll also support embryonic stem cell research. The majority of the American public support this bill. We know the current policy is handcuffing our scientists and is not allowing this research to move forward. So the solution is obvious. We should pass this bill.

I think the time has come for the President to come to this realization, and it is my hope he will see he has been mistaken.

The bill we are debating today offers a compromise. This bill will not destroy any embryo that would not otherwise be destroyed or discarded. It will allow promising research to move forward. It would end the impasse. It would take off the handcuffs.

President Bush had the opportunity to take a step forward 9 months ago when the House and Senate sent him the Castle-DeGette bill, on which this bill is based. He made it the first and, so far, only veto of his Presidency. My colleagues and I made a commitment that we would raise this issue again and again -- as long as it takes. Today we are fulfilling that promise. We know this bill will one day become law -- if not this year, then next year; if not next year, then the following year.

The majority of the American people, the majority of the scientific community, other nations, many of our States have embraced the promise of stem cell research. The President can stand in the way of such an overwhelming consensus for only so long.

With every passing week, the inevitability of this legislation grows clearer. Just since the President's veto, officials from his own administration have acknowledged the shortcomings of the current policy. More research has demonstrated the unique promise of pluripotent, multipurpose stem cells. States and private institutions are forging ahead without Federal support.

Finally, and importantly, more Americans are waiting for cures and treatments for catastrophic diseases. This is a very large lobby indeed.

So today we have another opportunity to move hope forward. The two bills before us today present a very stark choice. Only one bill, S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, embraces all forms of stem cell research. This legislation provides a simple and straightforward way to provide American scientists and researchers with immediate access to the most promising stem cell lines.

It states that embryos to be discarded from in vitro fertilization clinics may be used in federally funded stem cell research, no matter when they were created.

While opponents have suggested this bill will lead us down a slippery slope, the parameters created by the bill are numerous and, in fact, strict. Let me give you some examples.

The embryos must be left over following fertility treatment. The people donating the embryos must provide written consent. The donors may not be compensated for their donation. Finally, it must be clear that the embryos would otherwise be discarded.

This legislation will not allow Federal funding to be used to destroy embryos. With restrictions in place, over 400,000 embryos could become available while ensuring that researchers meet the highest of ethical standards.

Let's be clear. We are talking about embryos that will be destroyed whether or not this bill becomes law. It is an indisputable fact, and everyone would agree these embryos have no future. When President Bush adopted his ill-fated policy in 2001, he allowed lines already in existence to be used for federally funded research because "the life-or-death decision" had already been made.
The same is true here. In terms of the basic ideology of the President's earlier policy, this bill is no different than the earlier policy because the life-or-death decision has already been made with respect to these particular embryos. These will never be implanted. They will never be adopted. They will never be used.
This bill has not been held up because it is flawed. There is nothing wrong with this bill. The bill has been held up because of ideology, not policy.
There is a clear scientific consensus on this issue. Embryonic stem cell research has been endorsed by 525 organizations and 80 Nobel prize laureates. These groups and these experts represent the entire panoply of American health care, the young and the old: the American Association of Retired Persons, which we know as AARP; the Society of Pediatric Research; the American Geriatrics Society.
They represent a wide range of medical experts. The American Medical Association supports this bill. The American Academy of Nursing supports this bill.
They are from varying regions in the country: the University of California system, the University of Kansas, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
They represent patients struggling with a wide variety of afflictions: the Christopher Reeve Foundation, the Lung Cancer Alliance, the Arthritis Association, the ALS Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
They represent a variety of religious faiths, including the Episcopal Church and the National Council of Jewish Women.
These groups represent a variety of patients, medical disciplines, and religious faiths. They are from all over this country, and they all support expanding stem cell research. This consensus now even includes Bush administration officials. Last month, NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni testified this:

From my standpoint as NIH director, it is in the best interest of our scientists, our science, and our country that we find ways and the Nation finds a way to go full-speed across adult and embryonic stem cells equally.
That is a pretty unambiguous statement from the man who heads the Institutes of Health.
The Senate and the President should listen to the scientists who best understand this issue and give them access to the stem cell lines that successful research demands.
Jennifer McCormick of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics has said:

The United States is falling behind in the international race to make fundamental discoveries in related fields.
It is time to address and reverse that sentiment.
In a letter to President Bush, Nobel laureates called the discoveries made thus far by stem cell researchers a significant milestone in medical research.

They go on to say that:

Federal support for the enormous creativity of the United States biomedical community is essential to translate this discovery into novel therapies for a range of serious and currently intractable diseases.
They are not alone. Paul Berg of Stanford, George Daley of Harvard, and Laurence S.B. Goldstein of the University of California at San Diego recognize the promise and the need for embryonic stem cell research. These esteemed researchers have said:

We want to be very clear. The most successful demonstrated method for creating the most versatile type of stem cells capable of becoming many types of mature human cells is to derive them from human embryos.
This is the science.
You can quote a scientist here or a scientist there who will differ with that, but the bulk of people in this field worldwide believe as this statement reflects.
As Lucian V. Del Priore of Columbia University said:

This is important and exciting work.
It is time we use the wisdom of these respected scientists and embrace the promise of biomedical research using embryonic stem cells.
Scientists have learned more about stem cells -- how they work, how they may one day be used for cures -- since we last considered this issue, I guess some 10 months ago. This past August, scientists from the University of Edinburgh used embryonic stem cells from an African clawed frog to identify a protein that is critical to the development of liver cells and insulin-producing beta cells. This could lead to a better understanding of diabetes and liver disease as well as new treatments.
Then during the next month or two, in October, scientists at Novocell, a San Diego biotech company, announced the development of a process to turn human embryonic stem cells into pancreatic cells that produce insulin. This could be another significant step toward using stem cells to treat diabetes.
In September last, researchers used human embryonic stem cells to slow vision loss in rats suffering from a genetic eye disease that is similar to macular degeneration in humans. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people aged 55 and over in the world. It affects more than 15 million Americans. This research means stem cells could one day be used to restore vision in many of these patients. Just think of that: fifteen million people who are surely going to go blind, and that blindness might be stopped.
In March, a team at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, CA used embryonic stem cells in mice to a treat rare degenerative disorder called Sandhoff's disease. This condition, which is similar to Tay-Sachs disease, destroys brain cells. The mice treated with stem cells enjoyed a 70-percent longer lifespan, and the onset of their symptoms was delayed. The stem cells migrated throughout the brains of the mice and they replaced damaged nerve cells. No one ever thought that could be done before. This suggests that embryonic stem cells may effectively treat this disease as well as other genetic neurological conditions, including Tay-Sachs.
So all of this work is just beginning. Scientists will now work to translate these promising advances into cures for humans, and such a feat will almost certainly require access to viable lines of human stem cells. Unless the President's policy is overturned, these lines will not be available, and without access to additional stem cell lines, the cures and treatments will never move from mice to humans.
Many States, frustrated with Federal gridlock and the loss of their best scientific minds, are moving forward. I am particularly proud of my State of California. In 2004, California voters, by a whopping margin, approved Proposition 71 and created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. That institute is spending $3 billion over 10 years supporting promising research conducted in California. This work will be done with careful ethical oversight. It also bans human reproductive cloning, something we can all agree is immoral and unethical. Over $158 million in research grants has now been approved, making California the largest source of funding for embryonic stem cell research in America.
Promising projects include creating liver cells for transplantation at the University of California at Davis, developing cellular models for Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS, at the Salk Institute. This will give a better understanding of how these diseases work and yield possible treatments, as will work at Stanford to more effectively isolate heart and blood cells from embryonic stem cells. These are only some of the more than 100 labs in California now working.
One might say: All right, why not let the private sector and the State address this problem? Why do we need Federal research? I want to concentrate a few moments on that. The actions of California and the actions of other private and public institutions do not substitute for Federal funding and a standardized national policy. Much of this debate focuses on stem cell lines themselves, but scientists need much more to succeed. They need expensive equipment and lab space in which to work and collaborate, and there is the rub. For scientists working on embryonic stem cells, this means taking great care not to intermingle their work on approved stem cell lines with those that are not approved. If Federal funds, for example, built a lab or bought a freezer, a petri dish, or a test tube, these resources cannot be used on research involving lines not included in the President's policy. As I said, there are no lines left in the President's policy. Therefore, they can't be used. This has created a logistical nightmare.
The duplication and careful recordkeeping required is an enormous disadvantage faced by the U.S. stem cell scientists. Many have gone to extreme lengths to ensure they follow these regulations. The stakes are high: Any mistake could result in the loss of Federal grants for a researcher's lab.
Let me give a few examples. University of Minnesota researcher Meri Firpo buys one brand of pens for her lab that receives Government money and another brand of pens for use in her privately funded lab. This helps her ensure that a ballpoint pen purchased with Federal grant money is not used to record results in her lab that works with stem cell lines not covered by the President's policy.
UCLA is using a complex accounting system to allocate Federal and private dollars in careful proportion to the amount of time a researcher spends working on either approved or unapproved stem cell lines. A stem cell researcher, Jeanne Loring at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, CA, designed labels for all her equipment: Stem cells in a green circle denote equipment that can be used with all stem cell lines, while equipment bought with Federal funds is marked with a red circle with a slash through it.
At the University of California in San Francisco, biologist Susan Fisher worked for 2 years to cultivate stem cell lines in a privately funded makeshift lab. Unfortunately, the power -- the electricity -- in her lab failed. She couldn't move her lines into the industrial-strength freezers in the other lab because they were federally funded. The stem cell lines on which she had worked for 2 years melted and were gone. So 2 years of work was out the window because of this ridiculous situation.
Money that could otherwise be devoted to research is instead used to build labs and purchase duplicate equipment, and the cost is significant. Scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, MA, didn't want to fall behind international stem cell leaders, so they established a second lab. They had to buy a $52,000 microscope, two incubators which cost $7,500, and a $6,500 centrifuge. They already owned this equipment. They had the equipment, but they couldn't use it because that equipment was published with Federal dollars. To me, this makes no sense. I don't think we can afford this kind of wasteful duplication with what are very precious research dollars. Our scientists should be focused on investigating disease, not worrying about who pays for their pens or their test tubes. So bottom line: We need a reasonable Federal policy that includes funding for viable stem cell lines.
I don't need to tell my colleagues about the famous faces and the average people who are behind this legislation. It is nearly 70 percent of the population. I don't have to tell my colleagues about Michael J. Fox, who showed the Nation the true face of Parkinson's disease. I don't have to tell my colleagues about First Lady Nancy Reagan, who has spoken out in support of this and other legislation, or Christopher Reeve, who lived his life refusing to accept that his spinal cord injury would never be healed, or Dana Reeve, who stood by her husband and then tragically lost her own battle with cancer. Just as important are the millions of Americans who may not have a famous face, but put everything they have in us in the hope that we will do the right thing. The right thing is pretty simple. It is to give them a chance to live -- to live.
That is what we are talking about. I don't think there is any other piece of legislation that more involves the right to life than this piece of legislation.
These are people who are going to die. They live with catastrophic, often terminal diseases; they suffer immeasurably. Suddenly, there might well one day be a cure, or their disease might be put in remission. The kind of research might be done that can mend a broken spinal cord. How can we not support this? How can we look at the facts? Life or death is not involved for the embryo that is used. That is exactly what this legislation is. These are embryos that have no chance at life. All we ask is that they be put to work to protect human life. It seems to me that is not too much.
I hope this bill not only will pass here by a substantial margin but that some way, somehow, the 67 votes we need in this body to overturn a Presidential veto will be present. I think the American people demand no less.
I yield the floor."

Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein United States Senator

Saturday, February 10, 2007

ATTITUDE-- a Ron Bird Favorite

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company ... a church .... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past .... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way... We cannot change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude .... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you .... we are in charge of our Attitudes."

Charles Swindoll

Things to Remember from and by Ron Bird






Monday, February 05, 2007

How Common Are Neurological Conditions?

Migraine: 121 in 1,000 people
Epilepsy: 7.1 in 1,000 people
Alzheimer's disease: 67 in 1,000 people 65 or older
Parkinson's disease: 9.5 in 1,000 people 65 or older
Autism spectrum disorders: 5.8 in 1,000 children
Cerebral palsy: 2.4 in 1,000 children
Stroke: 10 per 1,000 people
Traumatic brain injury: No prevalence estimates available
MS: 0.9 in 1,000 people
Spinal cord injury: No prevalence estimates available
ALSALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease): 0.04 in 1,000 people
Tourette's syndrome: No prevalence estimates

Sunday, January 28, 2007

From the Saturday January 27 LA Times

O.C. transit officials rethink contract for troubled Access paratransit program

Veolia Transportation has problems getting to riders on time and getting them to their destinations.
By David Reyes, Times Staff Writer

January 27, 2007
Dorothy Miller was getting blood drawn and a prescription filled when the white Access bus rolled up to Kaiser Permanente in Garden Grove to take her home.

Miller, 86, who doesn't drive and uses a walker, is among thousands in Orange County who rely on the Access paratransit program, paying just $5 for round-trip transportation.

"The Access bus has been a blessing to me," she said after van driver Maria Moser helped her to her seat. "I use it to go shopping, exercise and the doctors."

But seven months after Oak Brook, Il.-based Veolia Transportation, one of the nation's largest transportation companies, took over a $30-million-a-year contract to provide paratransit services in Orange County, Veolia is in trouble.

Drivers have been late with pickups and hazy on destinations, sometimes getting there an hour late or longer, prompting numerous complaints from disabled riders who have missed appointments or been left waiting at hospitals, medical centers and shopping plazas.

The Orange County Transportation Authority has fined Veolia $300,000 for failing to meet contract standards.

"The single biggest issue has been buses being excessively late, in addition to problems due to difficulties with scheduling the buses, and drivers having trouble getting to the pickup points," said Erin Rogers, OCTA manager of transportation services.

In one instance, a blind woman complained about a bus driver who asked her for directions and where to make turns. "Then they couldn't make her appointment because they were late and she was taken home instead," said Christie Rudder, an advocate for the disabled with the Dayle McIntosh Center, a Garden Grove agency that helps those with disabilities, which fielded the woman's complaint.

Arnie Pike, 68, of Placentia, who began using a wheelchair after suffering a stroke 10 years ago, said he recently scheduled a 5:30 p.m. pickup at Cypress College. During a phone call, the dispatcher told him not to worry, that the driver would be there shortly. The bus showed up at 6:45 p.m.

"We think the driver and dispatcher need to be more honest to the people who use this service," he said.

Veolia is under 90-day review by OCTA, which oversees the program and has hired a consultant to examine Veolia's paratransit operations and make a recommendation on Veolia's future to the board in mid-March. Veolia took over from Laidlaw Transportation in July after winning the bid.

The transportation company recently met with OCTA Chairwoman Carolyn Cavecche and pledged to improve its services.

"If Veolia can't fulfill its obligations, OCTA is willing to make some tough choices," Cavecche said, adding that Veolia was selected because its bid was $13 million less than the next-lowest bids and that it promised better bus scheduling than its competitors, including Laidlaw.

"As far as I'm concerned, they have not lived up to the contract," Cavecche said.

OCTA officials could recommend splitting paratransit operations with another company or even rebidding the contract, board members said.

Veolia officials have told the OCTA that they failed to hire enough bus drivers and had problems training them, and experienced scheduling difficulty because of new software.

"I think there were issues that Veolia could have prepared for better, and the preparation also had to do with getting [data] systems working," said Sharon Crenchaw, Veolia's project director in Orange County.

In addition, a majority of Access customers live in and travel to the northern part of the county where most of the hospitals, medical clinics and dialysis centers are located, she said. This means paratransit buses travel where traffic is heaviest.

Crenchaw stressed the sheer size of the paratransit operation and the difficulties of managing a program that picks up 4,500 riders daily, and dispatches more than 230 paratransit buses in an urban area with "very heavy traffic patterns."

"I come from the Washington, D.C., area," Crenchaw said. "Traffic is heavy there, but here, our drivers encounter very heavy traffic patterns that start to peak around 2 p.m."

Laidlaw faced heavy traffic as well but generally had a good record for on-time pickups, OCTA officials said.

Crenchaw said Veolia has tried to be innovative, adding taxis during peak hours and installing new software.

Paratransit services under the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority have five contractors administered through a nonprofit agency that oversees service in 41 cities, an MTA spokesman said. Cost is about $83 million a year.

For months, board members in Orange County have heard complaints from the disabled community about the transportation problems. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, transportation must be provided to riders certified as disabled who live farther than three-quarters of a mile of the nearest public bus stop.

To help keep fares low, funding comes from the state, a federal grant, and a portion of the county's Measure M, a half-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax, an OCTA spokesman said.

Greg Winterbottom, a disabled Villa Park resident who helped found the Dayle McIntosh Center and is now on the OCTA board, has jokingly called Access "OCTA's expensive taxi service for the handicapped."

OCTA board members have held long discussions on Veolia's paratransit operation, some suggesting spending more on taxis or finding an alternative system. Under Veolia, OCTA spends about $24.21 per rider, down from $25.76 a year earlier.

OCTA officials say that in Las Vegas the cost per rider is $35.84, Seattle $25.48, and Washington D.C., $23.32.

Supervisor John M.W. Moorlach, who is on the OCTA board, said the program needed evaluation and suggested the board might consider a hybrid program, such as also having a fleet of taxis and exploring the use of existing dispatch services for buses and taxis.

If Laidlaw is called in, the company is ready, said Irwin Rosenberg, Laidlaw's vice president for business development.

Laidlaw also had rider complaints about service, he said. But the company's on-time performance was well above Veolia's, he said.

"Veolia said that they had people who could come in and perform miracles … and be more innovative," Rosenberg said.

"Well, the customers are the ones who are losing on this. They had something that worked, and it doesn't work now."

The OCTA answer to the previous post!

Thank you so much for your email. OCTA is working directly with the contractor to resolve these problems. This means the staff is going to Veolia and working hand in hand with the Veolia staff. Some very positive staff changes have been made by Veolia within this last week. We are already seeing the effects of these changes. This morning at 7:00 am the contractor was at 96.8% for on time performance. Now this is raw data and will change slightly as the data is adjusted. The contract states 94%. The dispatching procedures and schedules have been revised to address all of the concerns that you stated. Now this won’t all be fixed over night but it is moving in a positive direction.

We had the programmer from Trapeze out and he adjusted settings which have speeded up the system. Trapeze is used by most large transit agency’s. We are in the process of cleaning up the schedule change that occurred in December. We will see a positive effect of this next week. Moving Mr. Jerry Dullack into scheduling as the Manager is one of the changes I mentioned. Also, Veolia has hired a Manager over dispatch which the effects have been immediate. Additional staff changes will be made as needed in the very near future.

I agree with you that most of us are not real coherent early in the morning. Because they did not get the schedules until almost 8:00pm the night before they were having to make over 700 phone calls. They did not want to call customers too late so some were made in the morning. The problem was caused by trying to fix run templates for efficiency. This has been corrected so that the customer knows at the time of the booking what time the bus will be there.

OCTA is always concerned when our customers are not getting the proper service they deserve. Please be assured we have monitored the service from day one. The OCTA staff monitors the service on a daily service. We hired the contractor to do the job and tried to stay out of there way. OCTA staff is now working as a team with Veolia to smooth things out. We are now moving in the right direction. We will be glad to come to your next meeting, if you like, to explain all of the changes that have been made. Please be assured we are working very hard to give good customer service.

Email to OCTA Thursday January 25, 2007

I was informed that the contract with Violia might be in serious jeopardy. I would like to speak candidly about this development if it is indeed true. I believe there just might be an easier and less costly manner of achieving the desired result without having to endure the re-invention of the wheel. My observation of the January 8 Board of Directors Meeting left me with the sense that the Board was grappling with the issue and they weren’t aware of the root causes of many of the problems. The Trapeze software MAY be part of the problem? Is it? Is it simply a training problem? Will a new service provider be in any better position to master the software’s idiosyncrasies? Why did the Call-Center terminals slow down? What changed? Why? Whatever changed needs to be undone! Recover and/or revert to the previous system! It wasn’t perfect but it was much better than the current bottleneck! Contrary to popular belief, systems can regress!!

As was said during our face-to-face meeting at the Multiple Sclerosis Society, “We want OCTA to succeed in this endeavor!” There are some basic rules of Customer Service, etiquette, respect and common courtesy that OCTA needs to re-enforce. Little things like don’t call the customer by their first name! They are Mr. X or Ms Y. Do not call a customer at 6:50am to tell them the scheduled departure window when the request was made more than 48 hours earlier. I know fully able-bodied persons that can’t function at that hour let alone some that are disabled and/or senior citizen members of the community. Think about who the customer is. Think about their limitations. Then act accordingly! I don’t get the sense that there is anyone watching over the process in real time! Proactive management prevails, but when that model fails there is no reactive model to fall back on!

I maintain the opinion that this CAN be done! And, I have noticed a lot more cooperative chatter on the radios while riding the ACCESS bus. I deem that to be a step in the right direction.

Can you tell me this minute how many customers are still waiting for pickups with 30 minute windows that have expired? Can anyone tell me? Does anyone know and are they working to ensure that the customer whose window expires next is serviced within the 30 minute constraint? That’s a radio call I haven’t heard. Nor is one that questions a driver that is running late.

January 8, 2007 OCTA Board of Directors Meeting

Shirley Cero and I attended today’s OCTA Board of Directors Meeting. It was wrought with some bad vibes. Some of the Directors seemed to present a rather defeatist attitude with respect to Access’s ongoing customer satisfaction and poor performance statistics. It seemed to me that there was an underlying negative attitude toward the ACCESS customer base. Some of the Directors and OCTA staff seemed willing to accept the poor performance and excessive complaints as the norm when dealing with the ACCESS customer base. There were some vague references to, “Throwing money at the problem”, “Those people” and persons with developmental disabilities.

Looking around the room I noted an abundance of officials from a number of cities in the county, media and Orange County officials. Looked like a good opportunity to advocate so….Surprise, surprise… I couldn’t keep my damned mouth shut.

I rose to put a face on the customer, to tell them how important ACCESS is to its customers, that the customer wants them to succeed, to express my belief that the service level could attain a 94% on-time standard. That if “Brown” could make a nation-wide effort to eliminate left turns then OCTA could find a way to better their operational model. That some real-time, root cause analysis and monitoring of the current situation IN THE FIELD would help. And, I offered our help if the OCTA needed it. At least I was able to make a sincere and compassionate statement of our peer’s needs and I don’t think I came across as a person with developmental disability. I also praised Violia and OCTA staff, though not by name, for meeting with us to further our understanding of the current situation.

Hey, at least the LA Times reporter in the room listened and took good notes!

Violia management, including Eric Zandhaus and the General Manager, as well as the OCTA’s Erin Rogers approached me after the meeting to express their gratitude for the willingness to express my opinion during the meeting.

But I am somewhat bothered by the Board’s feeling that it can’t win this one. While I might not agree with all they do-- at least they do. Somehow that seems better than having them stick their collective heads in the sand.