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Paratransit-1.jpg[/IMAGE]While the fixed-route services of a transit agency cover the majority of riders in its service area, those in geographic outskirts or with medical necessities require other options. In these cases, additional programs are needed to cover riders who cannot use standard fixed-route services.
Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), which services the eight counties of the metro region, offers numerous specialized services to accommodate its ridership base. Two of its specialized programs, call-n-Ride and access-a-Ride, address mobility issues by expanding its services and creating more convenient options for riders.
RTD began operations of the access-a-Ride paratransit program in 1993. The door-to-door service allows disabled individuals, who are unable to use fixed-route buses, to phone in a reservation and be dropped off at another location in the RTD district. Its service area encompasses seven districts, and according to spokesperson Daria Serna, “Wherever there’s a fixed route, we have to have an access-a-Ride.” While the trip follows a fixed-route bus system, its starting and end points must be within three-quarters of a mile from the route. It also must have the same schedule as the fixed route that it is mimicking, which means it is in service every day of the year and runs late hours.
Riders can call on the same day, but the service’s high demand usually requires more advanced reservations. Trips are scheduled on a space-available, shared-ride basis, and a subscription service is available for those traveling to the same destination at the same time at least three times per week. Access-a-Ride operates 320 vehicles, and Serna says the service gets thousands of calls and requests each day. “In 2008, we had more than half-a-million boardings,” she says.
The agency’s Call-n-Ride service, started in the late ‘90s, is a convenient curb-to-curb service, covering a specific geographic area and designed to supplement existing RTD service and make it easy for commuters, school children and others to get where they need to go. This service can be implemented in areas experiencing low ridership, which was the case for a particular route in the city of Brighton, north of Denver. RTD replaced the line with call-n-Ride for that community. In late 2000, the program was adopted in four more towns leading to Boulder, and as more areas found out about the option, it was quickly implemented in other communities. Currently, there are 20 cities and counties that use call-n-Ride, three with more than one zone.
The curb-to-curb service operates 39 vehicles, including small buses and compact vans, across the entire Denver metro region. Each area is run individually and has its own schedule, which may not include weekends and holidays. Unlike the paratransit service, vehicles transport only within the boundaries of its service area and do not cross borders; riders wishing to get to another city or county must transfer to another vehicle. Riders call from one hour up to two weeks in advance for a reservation and speak directly with the driver, who pulls over to schedule the ride. On an average weekday, a call-and-Ride bus transports 2,100 riders.
The decision on whether to expand call-n-Ride to another community is based purely on need. Usually, requests for expanded service are made by RTD board members for their specific community, but individuals residing in the community can also make the request.
“It’s a case-by-case basis on when we add call-n-Ride,” says Serna. “There are a lot of different criteria that go into it: looking at the current bus route, seeing if they’re working out or not, and looking at the financial part of it to see who will fund it.” RTD can replace a route with call-n-Ride, but sometimes it is more effective to offer more frequent times on its fixed route service.
While call-n-Ride serves anyone in the area it covers and charges the same as a local cash bus fare, access-a-Ride’s eligibility requirements are much stricter. Its disabled riders must show that there is no lift equipment on the bus they need; they are unable to independently get to and from a bus stop or cannot get on and off a bus; or they are unable to understand how to complete trips. Eligibility certification is handled by the Easter Seals of Colorado, an organization working with the disabled, in a free process that requires a functional evaluation and a physician’s statement. Those verified receive a photo ID that they must show each time they board.
Fares for access-a-Ride range from $4 to $9, depending on the distance travelled. Those with the ID card wishing to travel within the community can also travel on a call-n-Ride vehicle for free. Riders can choose this option when an immediate reservation on access-a-Ride is unavailable. However, “on the call-n-Ride, they’re going to be on [a vehicle] with others who aren’t disabled,” says Serna. “Some people prefer the special care and the one-on-one attention you get with access-a-Ride.”