PHILADELPHIA - The young mother of a profoundly disabled child says she was frantic late last year when his medical transport team was hours late returning him home.
The company tells FOX 29 Investigates it has made changes and is sorry for causing concern. But questions remain about the operation and its finances. Jeff Cole has this report.
Six-year-old Maurice can't walk or talk. He's nearly blind and tube-fed. Medicaid insurance pays for his daycare and an in-home nurse on weeknights. When he gets home, he loves attention from his siblings.
Despite his challenges, Maurice's mom says he's the happiest kid you'll ever meet.
"He'll make you laugh. He laughs all the time. He doesn't really cry, he's not a crier. So … he's strong, I'm strong," said the mother, who asked us not to reveal her name or face due to her line of work.
Maurice is picked up from daycare at 4:30 p.m. and typically returned to his North Philadelphia home by 6 p.m.
His mother worried one night last month when a new service, Best Transit, ran late.
"It's 6:30, and he's not home yet," she said. "So, I called his transport company, and I asked them, you know, 'Where is he at?' And they're like, 'Oh, he got dropped off at 6:10.'"
Then, mom says she was placed on hold for several minutes. When she called back, she claims a dispatcher cursed and was rude.
She says the dispatcher told her, "'Well, Miss, I'm trying to find your F'ing kid.' And I'm like, well, if you lost my baby, I'm gonna call the cops.' He's like, 'Well, call the cops.' And he hangs up on me."
Best Transit's lawyer says the cursing complaint was news to him, but called it "troubling," saying personnel were concerned for Maurice's safety.
Maurice's mom did call police, and the daycare, which told her Maurice may have been taken to a home in the Northeast.
A police officer went to search, but he wasn't there.
"I don't even know what to think at this point," she said. "I'm just like, well, where is he if he's not there? Then they don't know where he's at, and they don't have an idea where he's at. And he's probably cold and lonely."
Finally, she heard directly from the van driver who had Maurice. Her son got home around 8:30 p.m., she says, about four hours after pickup, and went to a hospital to be checked out.
What happened? Best Transit's lawyer, Michael Taylor, in a statement wrote that another child's parent signed the driver's log in the wrong place, causing confusion. The driver circled back to that first home, resulting in the delay. The lawyer adds that Maurice remained on the van, and "was not in any danger at any time."
Maurice's mother contacted FOX 29 Investigates before she learned her disabled son's long night on that van resulted in the firing of the driver, as well as the aide. But she still has some lingering, serious concerns about the service. And when we looked at Best Transit's records, well, we had some questions of our own.
We'd called multiple times and hadn't heard back, so we went to the company's office, asking for President Robina Shafqat.
Employee: "Oh, she's not in the office right now."
Cole: "She's not in?"
Cole: "Huh. So, is there anybody else who runs Best Transit that I could speak to?"
We didn't have much luck waiting. A property manager told us, "I want you off the property," and later reached for our camera.
That's when we finally heard from the lawyer, Taylor, who says Best Transit is the business name used by the parent company, LyTa Corporation.
Like all Pennsylvania motor carriers, the company is regulated by the Public Utility Commission (PUC).
Documents show LyTa could face a $2,000 fine and possible loss of its PUC certificate to operate for running two days in September while under suspension for a lapse in insurance coverage.
Taylor says when LyTa changed its insurance company there was a paperwork mistake with the dates. He says LyTa is working to clear up the issue and denies the PUC is actively trying to pull its certificate.
But FOX 29 Investigates has found LyTa owner Robina Shafqat has had trouble with a business in the past. She started out with a separate corporation with the full name "Best Transit, Inc." That business was fined $11,000 and did have its PUC certificate yanked in April of 2016 for failing to answer two prior complaints about operating without maintaining evidence of insurance.
Cole: "We have been calling her."
Employee: "Yes, she was busy outside. She is having some meetings."
Cole: "Yeah, but we've been calling her since last Tuesday, so … if we could get a call back…"
Shafqat never called us, but her lawyer argues that company didn't need the insurance or the certificate because they had already stopped transporting passengers.
Court records also show Best Transit Inc. was hit in 2016 with liens worth tens of thousands of dollars owed to the state and the IRS.
Taylor says they're "working with the authorities to clear the obligations."
He adds LyTa carries up to 500 riders a day, and "approximately 99 percent of these trips occur without complaint or comment."
Maurice's mom says she wants a new paratransit service, but has been told there just isn't one.
Asked if she's concerned this will happen again, the mother told us, "Yes. Because a lot of the kids on that van, they can't walk or talk. So they can't identify themselves."
FOX 29 received a statement from LogistiCare, the organization that arranges non-emergency transports in Philly, including Maurice's ride on Best Transit. It says Best Transit/LyTa has met its strict credentialing and insurance standards since 2008. It didn't speak to the issues with the PUC.
Best Transit/LyTa's lawyer writes this unfortunate situation "caused a student's parents to experience fear and anger."