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The last few years have been turbulent for the transportation industry. Companies have responded to the challenges of rideshare competition with a mix of resistance and adaptation: while still advocating for regulation, companies have also looked to adopt the technologies their competitors brought to the mainstream. The most obvious case is the taxi industry—which has started to incorporate features like mobile hailing and driver tracking—but paratransit is also feeling the pull towards fast, technology-driven solutions. And with over 25 million Americans reporting travel-limiting disabilities, these vital services need to move with the times.

Addressing Shortcomings

Most people familiar with paratransit would likely agree that there are challenges in the space that technology can help address. In many regions, customers using paratransit must still schedule rides a day in advance; a far cry from hailing a car from your phone and having it appear in front of you a few minutes later.

At the same time, there has also been a marked uptick in customer expectations across all demographics. Today’s consumers are looking for innovation, instant service and personalized care from the companies they interact with—and if they don’t receive service that exceeds their expectations, they won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere. For paratransit riders, the alternative to scheduled service has sometimes been rideshares like Uber or Lyft, but when these alternatives fail to (promptly) provide a wheelchair-accessible vehicle some 70% of the time, it’s clear that there’s still room for improvement.

New Technology, New Demands—and New Options

The good news is, paratransit is very well positioned to benefit from the innovations of ridesharing. Though unique in its use case, regulatory oversight and vehicles, paratransit has the opportunity to leverage technology in offering a new level of service.  

Smartphones will, unsurprisingly, fuel this improvement. Increasing accessibility and adapting to the needs of their audience, today’s apps can assist users with visual impairments, respond to voice commands for customers with limited mobility and hail services at a moment’s notice. And smartphone use is up among seniors, a demographic traditionally slower to adopt new technologies. Paratransit providers are recognizing these benefits and getting on board: New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority responded to complaints of poor service from paratransit customers by rolling out a mobile and web app to allow riders to book and track trips, and a pilot program that allowed paratransit users to hail taxis as part of the city’s Access-A-Ride service. Just as Uber and Lyft captured the market by merging a unique business model with an emergent technology, paratransit companies who are taking the on-demand leap have been met with an overwhelming response.

For paratransit providers on the cusp of evolution, facilitating a more rideshare-like experience is all about eliminating inefficiencies and addressing pain points through responsive apps. Borrowing from established ridesharing solutions, paratransit stands to gain similar advantages through the use of app-based technology:

  • Customers will be able to schedule a ride, check in on driver progress and send complaints or special requests from directly within an application. They’ll also have the ability to track their incoming rides and read driver reviews.
  • Drivers, meanwhile, get a seamless solution that marries the familiarity and precision of standard mounted tools (such as meters or GPS units) with the flexibility, portability and responsiveness of modern technology.
  • Service providers gain happier customers, more call volume, a better reputation and great word of mouth, building revenue through better client relationships. The same system that provides this also saves money via automation and optimization.

As one of the latest service industries to emulate aspects of the ridesharing model, paratransit is already realizing that there’s massive potential in a more software-oriented approach. The MTA saw paratransit go from 16% to 28% of total ridership after implementing its e-hail experiment; at minimum, it’s a testament to the need for improved paratransit service, the willingness of users to try new offerings and the heights an agency can aspire to reach.

The Good News: The Technology Already Exists

For most paratransit providers, investing in proprietary software could be financially prohibitive. It’s one thing to want to transition your services to accommodate e-hailing; it’s another thing altogether to build the software to make it happen. But thanks to the fleet management solution providers already at work in the field, you don’t have to.

By licensing a fully configurable, purpose-designed product like ADEPT IQ to handle the day-to-day, the features that made ridesharing services successful are within reach for the paratransit provider. Increasing self-service tools for customers and streamlining day-of service for providers, ADEPT IQ promises improved efficiency for both passengers and companies.

As the transportation industry looks to ridesharing for tips on how to spark a movement, paratransit only stands to gain from keeping pace.

Image: Shutterstock / Alf Ribeiro

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