IndyGo Access provides the required comparable ADA service to fixed routes, but the agency wants to look at a brokerage system that will meet its customers' needs and operate paratransit as a demand and response system that will allow them to travel daily without scheduling trips in advance.  -  Photo: IndyGo

IndyGo Access provides the required comparable ADA service to fixed routes, but the agency wants to look at a brokerage system that will meet its customers' needs and operate paratransit as a demand and response system that will allow them to travel daily without scheduling trips in advance.

Photo: IndyGo

Paratransit is starting to evolve at a faster pace than it did 30 years ago, as agencies are starting to offer more services to seniors and people with disabilities.

Paratransit has been a major topic lately, and Christopher Pangilinan, VP of Paratransit at Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), said the journey to a more spontaneous and flexible service will be “in fits and starts, but we will soon get there.” 

“From a paratransit perspective, created more than 30 years ago, it hasn't evolved so much industry-wide,” says Pangilinan. “We're getting a lot better at being more responsive to what our customers need to travel and recognizing the multiple roles that paratransit plays not just as a safety net as the FTA originally, or the ADA originally, set out paratransit to be, but also to enable people to really live their fullest lives and participate in their communities.”

UZURV, a Transportation Network Company (TNC) also understands the importance of paratransit investments. The company provides rides to older adults, people with disabilities, and people who face mobility challenges for transit agencies and partners across the country. 

Agencies and companies such as the MTA, UZURV, and IndyGo are at the forefront of paratransit evolution, embracing the challenges that come along the way.

Agencies’ Paratransit Efforts in 2023

The MTA has been reviewing its paratransit services, such as Access-A-Ride, and is now setting goals for 2024.

Access-A-Ride (AAR) Paratransit Service is a shared-ride program that operates within the five boroughs of New York City (NYC) and within a three-quarter-of-a-mile corridor beyond fixed-route service across the NYC borderline to nearby areas of Nassau and Westchester counties.

It is also in compliance with federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

“We have done a lot in terms of successfully pushing through initiatives that focus on our reliability, expanding access to flexible and spontaneous options, and enabling our customers to be able to book online or over the phone with minimal wait time,” says Pangilinan. 

While absorbing over a 20% increase in ridership over the past year, the MTA tightened on-time performance standards at the end of 2023 from the industry standard of 30 minutes to 20 minutes. The agency also expanded its on-demand “E-Hail” program, which gives customers a more flexible and spontaneous option than traditional paratransit from 1,200 participants up to 3,600. Plus, the MTA upgraded its online booking experience, which was released last February.

Meanwhile, UZURV’s adaptive, on-demand mobility platform and network of FTA-compliant drivers has an average of 98%-plus on time across all programs no later than 15 minutes from the scheduled pick-up time. 

“We want to deliver paratransit in a way that protects the safety and quality of the service while adding in cost-effectiveness for agencies and other funders, as well as safety, quality, spontaneity, and dignity for riders,” says Ned Freeman, COO of UZURV.

Other agencies are following suit.

IndyGo has taken “significant steps to ensure a more reliable, convenient, and enhanced rider experience for its paratransit users” through its IndyGo Access service, according to Michael Roth, IndyGo Deputy Chief Transportation Officer.

Before January 1, 2023, IndyGo operated ADA-level service countywide, beyond what is federally mandated, which presented challenges that impacted riders and the agency. 

In January 2023, IndyGo’s new Beyond the ADA policy took effect to recognize two service areas: the ADA-mandated area and its newly established IndyGo Access Premium area. 

Another feature IndyGo’s paratransit service recently implemented was adding a mobility app for booking trips, which includes a QR code that links to the app, allowing customers to make cancellations and see estimates for trip arrival times.

In October of 2023, Austin, Texas’ Capital Metro (CapMetro) announced a move to replace its paratransit management system with Spare's modern ADA paratransit platform. 

With the shift, riders now have real-time notifications about their upcoming journeys, allowing them to stay informed. 

In December, the San Mateo County Transit District announced it will test a same-day paratransit pilot program over the next 12 months.

These recent announcements show how much agencies are investing in their paratransit programs.

“The spark to push it forward is now here,” Pangilinan says. “There's been a shift since the ADA has been passed in terms of how transit agencies view what people with disabilities are capable of and what people with disabilities want out of their lives, beyond the stereotypical medical appointment.” 

The MTA and UZURV are now aiming to improve their paratransit services in 2024 and beyond.

“We are looking to continue to push on the reliability factor,” Pangilinan says. “That's what our customers say is the most important thing for them in paratransit.”

The MTA said that 94% of its trips were picked up within 30 minutes toward the end of 2023. 

“We'll also look to evaluate our on-demand offering right now that we have as a pilot to see what we can do to make that program even more useful for our customers and expand the number of customers that are in that program.”

In the long-term, the MTA  plans to upgrade its core software system, which allows the agency to do trip reservations, dispatching, and scheduling. 

The MTA says it is hoping to complete that software upgrade in the next couple of years.

UZURV’s adaptive, on-demand mobility platform and network of FTA-compliant drivers has an average of 98%-plus on time across all programs no later than 15 minutes from the scheduled pick-up time.  -  Photo: UZURV

 UZURV’s adaptive, on-demand mobility platform and network of FTA-compliant drivers has an average of 98%-plus on time across all programs no later than 15 minutes from the scheduled pick-up time.

Photo: UZURV

Challenges in Implementing Paratransit Services

While agencies can showcase the results of their paratransit investment, the MTA and UZURV both provided perspectives on the challenges that go unseen. 

“Anyone who has spent time in paratransit operations knows how complex and challenging real-world daily operations can be,” Freeman says. “Paratransit is hard. So what do you do when the only thing you can really count on is that things will not go as you planned? Adaptability and flexibility is the key. But adaptability and flexibility must not come at the price of compromise in safety or quality of service.”

UZURV’s adaptive transportation network company service aims to provide agencies and operators with a flexible network of drivers and vehicles that respond to daily challenges.

The platform’s suite of driver onboarding, compliance management, reporting and audit, drug and alcohol testing, vehicle management, driver certification, trip execution, and oversight tools allow UZURV an adaptable network of qualified drivers and vehicles that are fully configurable and completely compliant to all requirements of its paratransit partners.

Pangilinan also acknowledges one of the challenges in implementing paratransit programs is one size doesn’t fit all.

“We have 177,000 registered customers right now. We do about 30,000 to 34,000 trips a day, depending on the day. Everyone travels for different reasons,” he says.

Another challenge is the financial risk with paratransit. 

Pangilinan believes in being able to articulate the risk to people who are funding the service and being able to weigh those benefits and costs together to expand that service is important.

“We know it’s possible to deliver on the ADA promise without compromise, and at the same time lower the cost and increase the quality of service for communities,” Freeman says. “It takes a willingness to incorporate new strategies and innovative technology.”

Every day, roughly one in four people in the U.S. need assistance with personal mobility as a result of a disability or the effects of aging, according to UZURV.

MTA, UZURV Offer Advice for Agencies

To tackle these implementation challenges, the MTA recommends agencies have strong involvement with the disability community in their service area.

“That includes their riders, their advocates, and anyone else that's involved in paratransit and the disability community,” Pangilinan says. “It also means trying and failing fast. That will breed success in innovation. Without trying, and if you don't include the community, you will run into issues of not providing the right service or just not learning.”

Roth echoes the advice offered by Pangilinan.

“The advice we would offer other transit agencies to improve their paratransit service would be to encourage them to solicit feedback from stakeholders and advisory committees every step of the way as they’re improving and redesigning their service,” he says. “This gives the public more buy-in and allows the agency to benefit from the valuable input these entities can often provide. Finally, the process of making changes should also include a comprehensive review of your current system.”

Freeman suggests legacy Call-a-Ride and Dial-a-Ride are a big opportunity for innovation and cost savings for agencies. 

Agencies should ask themselves:

  • How flexible and adaptable is the non-dedicated service provider network? 
  • How flexible is the technology platform? 
  • Does our platform allow us to adjust quickly to market conditions? To get the best price for the best service? 

“Technology is the key to flexibility and adaptability,” Freeman says. “Technology platforms are now capable of managing a host of non-dedicated service providers and matching rider needs and preferences to mobility solutions that can deliver excellent service to all abilities. Providing the oversight and comprehensive management of quality service providers with fully compliant, reliable, effective providers effectively and efficiently managed by a modern technology platform.”

Freeman also believes another issue for agencies is that historically traditional TNCs (and taxi providers before them) have struggled to provide an equivalent level of service for people who need higher levels of assistance. 

“In addition, most TNC drivers do not possess the credentials that transit agencies want for the people who provide direct service to paratransit customers, and many TNC drivers do not provide the door-to-door service that many paratransit customers need,” he says. “The result is often a system where the “least disabled” customers receive generally very good service, while more significantly disabled customers must decide between a less reliable product versus sticking with the agency’s more costly and less flexible ADA paratransit service.”

IndyGo Access leadership listened to its customers and expanded the options/resources for transportation through the addition of TNCs. With this addition, customers can now choose between using a TNC or travel with IndyGo Access.

According to the MTA, 94% of its trips were picked up within 30 minutes toward the end of 2023.  -  Photo: MTA

According to the MTA, 94% of its trips were picked up within 30 minutes toward the end of 2023.

Photo: MTA

What Does the Future of Paratransit Look Like?

It’s hard to predict what the future of paratransit looks like, but UZURV believes in an evolution where technology allows public transit agencies to become a true hub and platform for community mobility in their communities.

“Across so many private and public organizations, mobility is one of the top strategic challenges – a problem that is also in my view a massive opportunity for public transit agencies,” Freeman says. “Public transportation has the scale, the experience, and the public service mission to become the heart of independent mobility for everyone – at the same time benefiting from becoming the hub for those fragmented sources of funding and mobility services.”

The MTA says the future is going to be linked to the fixed-route system that it supports so that it runs parallel.

“Our first goal in the transit industry, and in New York, is to make the fixed-route system as accessible as possible to as many people as possible with a variety of disabilities, not just mobility, but other disabilities as well,” Pangilinan says.

The MTA said it is building more elevators per year than it has in the past 30 years. The agency is also adding other features to make it more accessible for people who are blind, or who have cognitive disabilities, to improve access to fixed routes. 

“There will always be a population that will need paratransit for a variety of reasons, not just in New York, but across the country,” Pangilinan says. “It's up to us to make that system as useful as possible for those customers. The vision for the future is moving above and beyond the ADA in a way that is financially sustainable for public transportation agencies and providers, but also allows customers that higher degree of flexibility and spontaneity you get with a fixed-rate route system that is just as frequent as it is here in New York with the bus and subway.”

About the author
Louis Prejean

Louis Prejean

Assistant Editor

Assistant editor Louis Prejean works on Metro Magazine and Automotive Fleet. The Louisiana native is now covering the fleet industry after years of radio and reporting experience.

View Bio
0 Comments