Paratransit is a crucial element of smart city planning. In any city aiming to create an equitable, efficient transit system, paratransit—alternate transit options accessible to those living with a disability—must also innovate and modernize with tech-driven solutions. As more transit providers make the move towards becoming all-encompassing mobility agencies, there are a number of smart city concepts that could have a positive influence on paratransit.
More Connected Than Ever Before
New digital technologies and mobile apps that utilize open source and big data offer huge opportunities to improve the lives of paratransit users. Google recently teamed up with transit agencies in order to provide a wheelchair-accessible route function in Google Maps. Google has plans to expand this feature—currently available for Boston, New York and London—to other metropolitan cities in the near future. In 2017, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) rolled out a pilot program to provide on-demand e-hail services for paratransit users—the first initiative of its kind in the city. A single, unified paratransit app is planned for release later this year.
The creation of technology-enabled mobile apps and web-based services that aim to remove transit barriers and improve accessibility in real time is a smart city concept that could relieve common pain points for paratransit travellers. As mobility is often an obstacle for the elderly and persons with disabilities, smart technologies present the potential to curtail costs, reduce travel time and address common paratransit frustrations.
Ridesharing is another smart city concept that’s already having an impact on paratransit. With the increasing prevalence of ridesharing services such as Lyft and Uber, paratransit providers must adapt their model to offer faster, better service.
Paratransit services must be improved upon and updated by capitalizing on ridesharing-inspired mobility solutions, such as on-demand scheduling, user-friendly apps and connected vehicles. The implementation of a more modern approach to paratransit services will allow the sector to stay competitive, while providing a better service to paratransit users.
Similar to the concept of ridesharing, integrated mobility is already impacting paratransit in many urban centres. Built on the concept that one trip can include more than one mode of transport—from car to train to bus—integrated mobility aims to link up disparate systems into one solution. As we continue to see a smart city trend of systems that offer a single point, end-to-end option for public and private mobility services, planning integration for paratransit becomes paramount.
With certain cities in the United States already subsidizing rides on ridesharing platforms to and from public transit stations in order to reduce parking congestions and overall costs, it’s not surprising that this same principle is being applied to integrate paratransit and ridesharing services. The Transportation Authority of Massachusetts Bay offers a subsidy of $13 towards paratransit trips provided by Lyft or Uber—which is still 70% cheaper for the city than existing paratransit services. Linking rideshares to trains to buses is as crucial for for paratransit users as it is for able-bodied travellers.
Although rideshares reduce costs and provide faster and better service to paratransit users, ridesharing drivers often lack paratransit training and credentials, and many rideshare cars are not wheelchair accessible. As paratransit demand outweighs supply in cities such as London, paratransit and taxi services will need to continue to add vehicles to their fleets. Transit providers can stay competitive by using integrated technology systems that reduce wait times to reach a dispatcher, allow riders to book in real time, reduce service denials and drive down costs.
An urban centre can’t truly call itself smart without ensuring every resident has equal access to transportation and public spaces. With the emergence of more inclusive technology, ridesharing and integrated mobility, the potential to provide accessible and efficient urban transit is greater than ever. In order to stay competitive, paratransit services should capitalize on the same data-driven technology that is being employed across smart city transit systems.
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Image: Shutterstock / Lisa S