Responsive Paratransit: What We Can Learn From Uber and Lyft

Written by DDS Wireless

January 25, 2019

The value that Lyft and Uber stand to bring to the paratransit space is obvious. While the ability to instantly order a ride with the tap of a mobile phone is a nice-to-have for any traveller, for those dependent on pre-scheduled paratransit, it’s a liberating innovation. When it’s infeasible (or even just inconvenient) to drive yourself—and risky to rely on public transport—the advantage of being able to hail a vehicle any time through an app is a very real step up.

Of course, on-demand paratransit has been around for a long time, but given the typical financial and logistical constraints of these services, they haven’t gotten anywhere close to providing the responsiveness of Uber or Lyft. Most paratransit services require customers to order a vehicle by phone a day in advance, and riders are given little insight into potential delays or other service issues.

Ridesharing Comes to Paratransit   

It’s not surprising that both Uber and Lyft have been making forays into paratransit—there’s a clear need for a quick and reliable ride-hailing service to provide convenient transportation to people with disabilities.

Uber and Lyft’s experiments in paratransit have so far largely been pilot programs run in tandem with municipal agencies. For instance, Lyft is working with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to offer same-day transport to the agency’s customers. As with any regular Lyft ride, customers can order a vehicle directly through the app.

On the other side of the country, both Uber and Lyft have partnered with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to offer paratransit rides for as little as $2 per trip. As with the partnership in Nevada, this is just a pilot program, although it was recently extended to July 2019.

The Limits of Ridesharing     

While these pilot programs undoubtedly help the small number of people who have access to them, they fail to address the core issues that prevent same-day paratransit from being rolled out on a larger scale.

Ridesharing has been so successful in part because it’s been so affordable—in most cases, cheaper than taking a taxi. But when it comes to paratransit, offering a sustainable ridesharing service at a reasonable price is almost impossible. The $2 rides offered by the MBTA, for example, are heavily subsidized. The traditional cost of a paratransit ride in the area is $31. In New York, the typical cost is closer to $60.

These higher costs stem largely from the fact that paratransit requires specialized vehicles and trained drivers. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates equal opportunity and access for persons with disabilities, but it’s clear that ridesharing is not yet up to the mark. In New York, where services like Uber and Lyft are expected to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles, it’s been revealed that they fail to do so 70% of the time. There remains a gap between the optimal paratransit service and providers’ ability to meet it.

Paratransit Needs to Embrace Technology

Companies like Uber and Lyft haven’t had the same quick success in paratransit that they’ve achieved via more traditional ridesharing. The relative ease with which a network of drivers can be created to compete with taxis is not feasible in paratransit. In fact, Uber recently started relying on paratransit company MV Transportation to offer more wheelchair-accessible rides in the U.S. and Canada.

Ridesharing companies are unlikely to be a major disruptive force in the paratransit space any time soon. The requirements of the service are too complex to make the standard gig-economy model work.

That said, the principles of ridesharing can certainly be applied to make paratransit cheaper and more effective for all involved. By making use of a dispatch solution like ADEPT IQ, paratransit agencies can offer customers quicker service and a better user experience, and also fight the inefficiencies that drive up cost. For example, ADEPT IQ can use traffic info, weather service and department of transportation feeds to identify street-level service disruptions. It can also assess data to create the best routes, identify useful patterns and even look at long-term trends to determine the most likely demand.

Taking the best that ridesharing has to offer and leveraging the latest technology will allow paratransit agencies to create the sort of life-changing same-day service that their customers deserve.

Visit our ADEPT IQ product page to find out how we can help revolutionize your paratransit service.    

Image Credits: Lyft

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