Paratransit customers face a variety of challenges when it comes to moving freely and effectively through urban centres. Predictably, daily pain points include long dispatch times, a lack of on-demand service, and an inadequate pool of trained drivers. Moreover, the demand for paratransit is growing due to both an aging population and more opportunities for people with disabilities, so many customers are facing rising costs and increased competition to secure a ride. Yet the situation is far from hopeless. Thanks to emerging technologies and other innovations, a number of solutions are being proposed that could reduce costs for service providers and improve mobility for paratransit customers.
Scheduling: Flexible and Spontaneous Reservation Systems
One of the biggest hurdles for people with mobility issues who are using paratransit services is scheduling. Currently, many paratransit providers require riders to arrange and schedule their trips at least 24 hours ahead of time. Moreover, most paratransit services have no online scheduling system, instead requiring paratransit riders to phone in to make a reservation well in advance. These scheduling delays are a barrier to equal mobility access, as they prevent spontaneity—users aren’t able to stay late at work or attend after-work drinks, for example, as they may not be able to make their way home afterwards. A solution to common scheduling frustrations should be multi-fold: scheduling should be multi-channel, with options ranging from booking over the phone, to reserving rides via mobile app, SMS text and even wearable technology such as emergency alert necklaces. Software to support on-demand systems should also be adapted in order to provide flexibility to paratransit users, so they are not left stranded if something unexpected comes up. A first step towards a solution for fleet managers can be found in updated dispatching software and systems.
Streamlining: Innovative Software to Improve the User Experience
The ability to track a ride in real time, know what driver is completing your trip, and reschedule a route on short notice is not yet a reality for paratransit travellers. With a subpar user experience for many paratransit services, new software and mobile apps—similar to those employed by rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber—are the way forward when it comes to offering better options to paratransit customers. The next frontier in paratransit software is made up of integrated solutions that can improve the user experience while also lowering costs for paratransit companies. Transit providers should streamline their services by employing geohashing algorithms: powerful tools that optimize routes in real time based on rider location, destination, time and type of vehicle and support requested. Having convenient and effective ride-hailing software at their fingertips benefits customers, while the right software tools cut down on service gaps for providers.
Collaborating: Partnerships with Taxis and Ridesharing Companies
The paratransit service industry stands to increase its service capacity, manage costs and provide a more competitive experience to users by collaborating with taxi and ridesharing companies. The demand for rides from these type of flexible services is on the rise amongst paratransit customers, and many of these private sector players are already employing advanced technology to meet the needs of their customers. For taxi companies, this collaboration means that by providing increased driver training and adding wheelchair accessible vehicles to fleets, it is possible to improve mobility coverage and access to paratransit in many urban areas. As modelled by cities like Boston, transit planners should look into providing subsidies to eligible paratransit riders who use taxi services. By expanding and improving their existing fleet, taxi companies can become part of the solution for paratransit travellers.
Sharing solutions and increasing outfitting of public transit infrastructure and bus stops for paratransit fleets are important steps to mitigating common paratransit pain points. With the growing need for effective, efficient and affordable paratransit options, the transportation industry should embrace technologically-enabled options to providing a better mobility experience for people of all abilities.
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Image: Shutterstock / Jelena Danilovic