July 2, 2018
In today’s ecosystem of fast-paced, technology-driven system improvements, it’s common for one industry’s solution to offer opportunities to the industry next door. Paratransit—transit for people living with mobility issues—is a subcategory of transit that is embracing tech trends to provide better service for customers. One related field that is poised to follow in paratransit’s footsteps is emergency management: both industries focus on mobility and diverse populations, and face hurdles when it comes to budgets and flexible tools.
Paratransit use is on the rise. In the United States alone, 223 million passenger trips using paratransit were recorded in 2013. Paratransit may be offered by public agencies, using buses or vans, or private companies, who contract taxis as a paratransit service. In the Netherlands and Sweden, for example, contracted taxis for paratransit service represent 60% of the taxi market.
Emergency management is the governmental function that’s typically responsible for creating a framework that prepares cities and countries to deal with emergencies. This kind of management involves preparing for disasters, mitigating their potential impacts, and responding to their results. With disasters seemingly on the rise, emergency management is becoming more important than ever.
With all the technology and innovation emerging in the paratransit space, here are three top takeaways that emergency managers can employ to improve the efficiency of their disaster response.
When it comes to offering fast and convenient transit service to customers with disabilities, demand-responsive transit (DRT) is the method of choice. DRT is a combination of a traditional public transit systems and privately-organized taxi services. When organizing this blend of routes, vehicles and schedules, a highly flexible and robust dispatch system is required. Software solutions like ADEPT and MobiRouter are designed for this complex task. These types of dispatch solutions point the way towards a responsive future, one where response to a disaster can pull on the same level of speed and flexibility as a DRT system. For emergency management, this might look like software that predicts a tornado and allows managers to coordinate local buses, trains, emergency vehicles and cabs to provide timely transportation out of the danger zone.
Governments are increasingly turning to private companies to fill gaps in their existing transit and paratransit solutions. San Francisco Paratransit provides travellers with a debit card for taxi trips, while Montréal’s Transport Adapté division pairs its fleet of 86 minibuses with 275 accessible taxis and 1,000 standard taxis. For those is emergency management, the sharing economy may provide new solutions to the challenge of emergency transportation. For example, during Hurricane Irma, Uber began offering free rides to shelters for those in the hurricane’s path, and Sanibel Taxi provided a free service to residents of Sanibel Island, which was in the hurricane’s path, during recovery efforts. Bringing together private transportation providers to boost both paratransit and emergency response can ease the burden on existing relief infrastructure.
Paratransit trips have traditionally required reservations booked well in advance via phone or email, removing the spontaneous aspect of travel enjoyed by non-disabled customers. To address this problem, paratransit providers are turning to sophisticated apps to create fluid, responsive solutions. Today’s mobility apps take instant reservations and track vehicle locations live via GPS. Similarly-designed disaster response apps are vital tools for reporting locations of emergencies, aid stations and places of shelter, while tracking emergency vehicles and localized relief efforts. Existing solutions—like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mobile app and the Pacific Disaster Center’s Disaster Alert™—are making headway in this space, but there remains room to grow. Easy-to-use apps that help disaster-struck citizens request rescue remain on the horizon.
Many of the challenges affecting the paratransit industry are impacting the field of emergency management as well. These specifically include budgetary constraints and critical response times. Big data, the Internet of Things and AI are changing transit in general—and paratransit in particular—and these advancements can help emergency managers save lives. Whether by knowing exactly where people are during an emergency and getting to them more quickly, or providing rallying points and disseminating instructions, future-minded emergency managers can leverage the latest technology and sharing solutions to optimize the work of disaster relief.
Image: Shutterstock / Black Salmon
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