2013 Paratransit Survey: Operators Continue to Grapple with Funding, Demand, Retention

Posted on August 20, 2013 by Nicole Schlosser, senior editor

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For its 10th annual paratransit survey, capturing a snapshot of the industry, METRO received responses from 98 paratransit providers from 36 states across the U.S. and one system from Canada. Respondents answered 32 questions about their fleets, ridership, concerns and innovations.

This year, we added about 10 questions to find out more about paratransit operators’ partnerships with taxi services, which contractors operators work with, and more details about travel training programs, such as how many years they have been in operation; whether they are supported by organizations such as nonprofits, senior or disabled advocacy groups, colleges or schools; and if the programs helped operators cut costs by moving some riders to the fixed-route system.

A total of 7,024 vehicles are represented in this year’s survey results, with the largest fleet making up nearly one-quarter of that, at 1,925 vehicles, and the smallest paratransit fleet comprised of one van. The average fleet size is 47, about the same as last year, and the median is 23. Twenty-three percent of respondents reported having mid- to full-sized vehicles (more than 25 feet in length) in their fleets. Small vehicles comprised 40% of fleets, down from last year’s half. A breakdown of bus sizes for all fleets can be found in Figure 1 (see page 20.)

One significant change in this year’s surveyed fleet mix is that vans made up nearly half of all vehicles represented, at 43%, quite a bit more than last year’s reported 7%. Taxis accounted for 8%, just about in line with last year’s 6% and 2011’s 7%. Ninety percent of all vehicles represented are wheelchair-accessible, a sizable uptick from 2012’s 70%.

Operators transported a total of 24.9 million riders in 2012. Sixty-seven percent reported increases, averaging 8%, which is the same as last year, while about one-third reported a decrease in service, with an average of 6%. The highest ridership increase reported was 54%.

Taxi service
We added some questions about taxi service this year after seeing more paratransit operators, such as San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) and MV Transportation, offering the service at its operations. Slightly less than one-third reported using a taxi service to supplement their fleets. Of that portion, about one-quarter found it helpful with accommodating demand. These carriers also shared benefits such as scheduling flexibility, meeting on-time performance goals, and serving rural areas.

“Taxis provide operational flexibility for scheduling uneven trip volumes and can help meet OTP goals when used to pick up customers with projected late trips on the day of service,” John Bodnar, ADA project officer, office of MetroAccess Service, Metro, said.

However, some challenges listed were having enough funding for the service, drug and alcohol testing compliance, and, as one carrier put it, “dealing with high risk medical trips such as dialysis centers.”

2014 vehicle buys
Nearly two-thirds of surveyed operators plan to purchase new vehicles next year, up about 10% from last year. The total number of vehicles on order is 829. While one-third of respondents do not plan to buy vehicles in 2014, (Figure 2), one operator reported plans to buy more than 100 vehicles in the upcoming fiscal year, and 7% plan to buy anywhere from 26 to 100 vehicles. The largest number of respondents, however, plan to purchase one to 10 vehicles next year. The top three paratransit vehicle manufacturers those surveyed are looking to buy from are ElDorado National, Champion Bus Co. and Goshen Coach.

Productivity and billing
Of the slightly more than one-half of operators who use contractors to deliver rides the top two contractors they reported working with were MV Transportation and Veolia Transportation. About 60% of respondents reported their contractors billed by the hour, with 40% billing by trip. Only one carrier reported being billed by both hour and trip.

The average billing per trip came out to $21.43. The per-hour average is $37.34. Regarding productivity, carriers that bill per hour average 2.34 passengers, up only a bit from last year, while carriers that bill per trip averaged 2.15 passengers.

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