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Oct 23, 2020

How to Integrate Fixed-Route Transit and Paratransit Systems

Having separate services for community members can not only be uneconomical, but the carbon footprint left on the environment will be detrimental for future generations. Implementing more than one service is particularly not ideal in rural areas where public transport services are already at a limited capacity and under resourced. Surely, there has to be a better way.

How to Integrate Fixed-Route Transit and Paratransit Systems

Depending on where you reside in the world–there will be different requirements for how fixed-route transport and Paratransit services must operate. 

Some laws state that fixed-route services must also provide an option for community members requiring extra assistance when it comes to travel. For example, in the United States, the American Disability Association guidelines require a Paratransit service for every fixed-route service.

However, having two separate services for community members can not only be uneconomical, but the carbon footprint left on the environment will be detrimental for future generations. 

Implementing more than one service is particularly not ideal in rural areas where public transport services are already at a limited capacity and under resourced. 

Surely, there has to be a better way.

This leads us to ask—how can Transit Agencies integrate fixed-route transit and Paratransit systems?

The best way to do this is by implementing a Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) system that can manage fixed to fully flexible transit whilst catering for the unique passenger requirements of each service. DRT Technology today has the ability to consolidate fleet requirements as well and provide the appropriate level of accessibility expected in modern transit. Demand-Responsive Transport systems are primarily used by patrons in the form of an app, enabling passengers to book a bus, shuttle or car to pick them up and drop them off at specific locations. This type of on-demand service is more environmentally sustainable and has a greater ability to service multiple passengers at the same time. This is a much more cost effective alternative, as opposed to offering separate public transport services often siloed from primary fleet operations. By co-creating equitable transport solutions, Transit Agencies can enable organisations and governments to reinvent how they service their community.

What is Paratransit?

Paratransit (also known as Community Transport) is a supplementary transport service offered to members of the community who are unable to utilise fixed-route or more traditional public transport services. Namely, these community members require particular offerings that are configurable for accessibility needs.

Instead of offering infrequent and rigid transport options, Paratransit services consist of a flexible and customised transit experience for community members who may not be able to conveniently access fixed-route services. 

Paratransit modes of transportation commonly include:

  • Minibuses with wheelchair lift access
  • Fleet Services 
  • Taxi’s

Paratransit services have been available for the last fifty years across the developed sector, and have found rising prominence through mandatory regulation from Governments, ensuring that the needs of community members requiring special assistance are accounted for. 

What are ADA’s Paratransit Requirements?

In the United States, if you have a fixed-route bus service, you need to offer a Paratransit option to the community. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) states: 

Sec. 12143. Paratransit as a complement to fixed route service 

(a) General rule. It shall be considered discrimination for purposes of section 12132 of this title and section 794 of title 29 for a public entity which operates a fixed route system (other than a system which provides solely commuter bus service) to fail to provide with respect to the operations of its fixed route system, in accordance with this section, paratransit and other special transportation services to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs that are sufficient to provide to such individuals a level of service 

(1) which is comparable to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities using such system; or 

(2) in the case of response time, which is comparable, to the extent practicable, to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities using such system (p.18).

And if you set up an on-demand service, you have to ensure there is a Paratransit service readily available also: 

Sec. 12144. Public entity operating a demand responsive system If a public entity operates a demand responsive system, it shall be considered discrimination, for purposes of section 12132 of this title and section 794 of title 29, for such entity to purchase or lease a new vehicle for use on such system, for which a solicitation is made after the 30th day following July 26, 1990, that is not readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, unless such system, when viewed in its entirety, provides a level of service to such individuals equivalent to the level of service such system provides to individuals without disabilities (p.21). 

Source:  Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Ensuring that community members requiring special assistance have an option to travel continues to be an essential public transportation requirement amongst regulatory bodies, which is why consolidating these services in a demand-responsive capacity is imperative for the future sustainability of the transportation industry.

What are the features of a demand-responsive Paratransit service?

Current transit platforms are outdated and manual, which can result in a frustrating user experience for patrons. Giving peace of mind to members of the community who rely on public transport to carry out daily activities can therefore be easily achieved through the implementation of high quality on-demand technology. Offering a demand-responsive service to community members who need to utilise Paratransit services has some great positive features, which include:

1. In-Advance Trip and Seat Bookings

  • Request trips any time up to 4 weeks in the future
  • Know your booking will be honoured
  • Confidence and convenience of booking a specific seat that is socially distant from others

2. Alternative Trip Times

  • When the requested time is busy, suggest the next best alternative
  • Avoid the infuriating “No bus available – try another time”

3. Regular Rides Feature

  • Book a trip you take regularly in just two button touches
  • Convenience for regular users
  • 75% of trips now booked with this feature 

4. Multiple Trip bookings (Book a whole week of trips at once)

  • User driven feature
  • Convenience focused

The advantages of combining Paratransit and transit services

Gone are the days when Paratransit services needed to be run in isolation—particularly in rural areas where it’s not cost-effective to operate multiple services in areas with lower headcount and usage. There are also unmet technology needs for small rural transit agencies, which can be serviced with an esteemed dynamic responsive tech provider. 

Technology today has the ability to consolidate fleet requirements as well as providing the appropriate level of accessibility in a demand-responsive fashion.

Because current platforms are outdated, this means that it’s time for Transit Agencies to look at making serious upgrades in order to remain relevant and effective. There are multifarious advantages of combining both regular transit and Paratransit services with the integration of Demand-Responsive Transport systems:

  1. Benefits for live capacity tracking/management:
  • All details are logged for future, current and historic trips making real time reporting very easy
  • Booking system can automatically manage onboard capacity and social distancing, ensuring maximum passenger numbers do not exceed safe levels
  1. Benefits for bus operators/agencies
  • Enables routing and bus provision based on known demand, improving service utilisation and efficiency 
  • Ability to integrate Paratransit, Senior and general public services 
  • Ability to engage multiple bus operators one on booking platform
  • Able to offer demand responsive and dynamically routed bus services, running at all levels of flexibility from fixed route, virtual stops or door to door
  • Ability to offer dynamic pricing
  • Electronic payment can be added easily to booked services reducing the need for onboard payment systems that are expensive, and decrease COVID-19 exposure risk
  1. Benefits for Passengers
  • Guaranteed seat with social distancing confirmed
  • Comfort of knowing they have a seat for their upcoming weeks of regular travel
  • Able to access door to door and demand responsive services 
  • Bookings can be completed via the convenience of a mobile app, phone call or text
  • Ability to pay electronically 

Running separate services—such as Paratransit services—is an uneconomical and environmentally problematic way to operate for Transit Agencies, especially in rural areas. Integrating Paratransit services with regular transit, and consolidating with a cost-effective mode of transportation that is suitable for all community members can be achieved through Demand-Responsive Transport. 

It’s time for Transit Agencies to look at smart, equitable and non-emergency transport that has an all-in-one Paratransit solution. 

When you work with a service operator like Liftango, you’re given a platform to streamline multiple operations in a cost-effective and time efficient way. Contact us to learn more.
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