Operations responding to METRO’s Annual Paratransit Survey continue to see demand for services grow, with 70% reporting that the number of riders transported in 2015 was higher than the previous year. Additionally, 17% reported that demand was also one of their greatest overall challenges.
To that end, some agencies have partnered with taxi services (14%) to supplement their fleets, while 45% have turned to travel training programs to offset demand.
Soaring costs also continue to plague paratransit operators, with some referencing the cost of insurance and the costs associated with training and equipping new drivers.
Some cost-cutting solutions agencies are implementing include the aforementioned travel training, with 58% reporting that they have helped cut costs by moving more riders to fixed-route services. One respondent said their agency saw annual savings exceeding $500,000 due to this practice.
Another continuing trend in this year’s survey is the challenge of driver recruitment and retention, which saw 43% of respondents listing this as their single-biggest driver-related concern. Other key issues related to drivers included customer service (21%) and training (16%).
Fleets, top tech
The total number of vehicles represented in this year’s survey totaled 15,826. Of those, 91% are wheelchair accessible.
Small buses (25 feet and under) comprised the largest paratransit fleet makeup, with 37% reporting. Medium-to-large buses came in second (35%), while vans made up 24% of fleets. Operators plan on purchasing nearly 500 vehicles this year to supplement their fleets.
Forty-one percent of agencies participating in our survey implemented new technologies in the past year. Scheduling and dispatching software topped the list again, with 65%. AVL systems (26%) and online booking systems (17%) were other key technologies deployed. Usage of computer tablets is still minimal, but growing. One fleet distributed tablets to network the dispatching system for drivers on route, which resulted in streamlined electronic reporting of data, improving accuracy, reducing driver time spent at pickups, and improving communications between dispatch and drivers.
This year’s survey, which provides a snapshot of paratransit trends, received responses from 141 service providers within the U.S. Thank you to everyone who took the time to provide their feedback.
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