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March 24, 2021

Microtransit and Paratransit: A Look Towards A New Travel Model

With so many new transport models at our fingertips, it’s time to start consolidating these services to take advantage of their unique benefits.

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In recent years, mobility has shifted within our society. A movement away from traditional transit models has opened up a plethora of alternative travel pathways, deviating from fixed-route and limited public travel to more dynamic services. Microtransit and paratransit are two such models to emerge from this trend, and here, we explore just what these transit experiences entail, and how an amalgamation of the two could offer enhanced travel for the wider community, including those with accessibility needs.

What is microtransit?

If you haven’t already unpacked microtransit, here’s a snapshot for you.

Microtransit can be put simply as ‘dynamic routing’. This model opens up an avenue for Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) feeder services, which enables a vehicle to create temporary pick-up locations anywhere within a service zone and connect passengers to a central hub.

As a solo traveller, all you have to do is click a button to book a trip that places you on the fastest route to your destination, as well as your fellow commuters’. It efficiently adapts the path with each new passenger that registers, rather than following a fixed-route as with Public Transport.

Microtransit is more environmentally friendly, reduces congestion on our roads, and offers the convenience of popular rideshare services at the cost of public transit, meaning your bank account will thank you for it.

What is paratransit?

Also referred to as ‘community transport’, paratransit is an alternative transport service for those with accessibility needs. It’s a flexible and customised transit experience available to members of the community who are unable to utilise the fixed-route or traditional public transport services.

Paratransit options are both an ethical and legal requirement. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA):

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).

Serviced through minibuses with wheelchair lift access, fleet services or taxis, paratransit has been operating for the past 50 years, ensuring that the needs of community members requiring additional assistance are being met.

What makes microtransit and paratransit similar?

Both microtransit and paratransit place the commuter at the forefront of the transit experience. While the travellers’ needs may differ, these models place transport in the hands of the commuter, meaning that they determine when the trip will be taking place.  

When it comes to booking a microtransit or paratransit service, the passenger utilises either a smartphone Application or phone service to schedule a trip. It’s transport on-demand rather than adapting your travel to suit the fixed-route of public transit. 

For microtransit and paratransit, their travel model borrows from both ridesharing and Public Transport, combining the convenience of popular rideshare services with a more cost-efficient shared transit experience. Commuters have the opportunity to hail a ride with fellow travellers, which has a host of benefits, including reducing road congestion and harmful emissions, as well as saving money. 

You may be wondering how microtransit and paratransit really differ from Public Transport, given that they are both still shared transportation. The main benefit of these two models is that their travel routes are adaptable. With microtransit and its dynamic routing, as soon as a new traveller registers, the trip is redirected in real-time, allowing for the fastest and most efficient course to be charted. Paratransit is similar to this, although in its current state, it’s not as dynamic. While it does follow a fixed-route, it can deviate from the path within a certain distance, but this is at the calculation and discretion of the driver and the parameters of the Transit Agency. 

How do microtransit and paratransit differ? 

Although they engage in many similarities, microtransit and paratransit have some key differences.

While both offer a variable route, paratransit in its current model requires somewhat advance notice before you can join the service, or is limited in the area of which additional passengers can join. This isn’t as practical as microtransit, and doesn’t leave much room for the last minute trip to the supermarket when you’ve run out of milk. Even though paratransit is a great means of transport for those with accessibility needs, it lacks the dynamic component that microtransit offers. 

Microtransit moves with the needs of the traveller. It’s flexible and adjusts to each new commuter registered. When it comes to paratransit, after a new booking is made, the driver is required to deviate from the fixed-route to collect the passengers, rather than adapting in real-time. 

Even though paratransit services are not usually run in tandem with microtransit services, there is a way to efficiently combine them that is more practical than ever!

Why should Transit Agencies integrate both services?

A merging of both the microtransit and paratransit models would spell convenience and efficient servicing for Transit Agencies.

If paratransit were to lend from the current microtransit model, it will enhance the transit experience for those with accessibility needs. Expanding upon the current variable route, but in a more dynamic way, this amalgamation would offer real-time booking and a system that calculates the best track for the driver. And efficient trips mean less transit time and more commuters that can be transported within a given day, resulting in an increase in potential earnings for Transit Agencies.

Financial factors aside, a consolidation of microtransit and paratransit would mean that those with accessibility needs have the opportunity to experience the many benefits of dynamic routing, including faster transit and reduced travel fees.  

Emerging technologies have paved the way for models such as microtransit to exist within the transit space, and when applied to models such as paratransit, offer up a new avenue of exploration for Transit Agencies looking to provide more efficient and economically viable services. With benefits like reduced costs, environmental friendliness and flexibility for all community members, consolidating microtransit and paratransit is more achievable than ever. All it takes is the click of a button!

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About the Author

Cassie Holland

Cassie Holland


Cassie has forged a career out of her passion for the written word and love of hearing people's stories. She utilises her writing and editing skills to craft pieces that tell a story.