Public Transit and the Disabled: The Costliest Ride

| 8/12/2009 9:56:11 AM

Paratransit SignThe federal Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that paratransit be available within three fourths of a mile of a fixed-route transit line, offer the same hours as fixed-route transit, and require fares no more than twice the fixed-route transit fare. 

The 1990 passing of this law was considered a huge win for the disabled community.  However, as reported in Governing, no one is happy with paratransit—neither the cities who pay the expensive bills nor the people using it who point to the inconvenience of having to request a ride days in advance, the geographic limitations of the system, and the often late arrivals. 

A few cities are coming up with alternative systems.  Pittsburgh, for example, determines eligibility on a trip-by-trip basis:

Some applicants are classified as eligible for the service only when traveling to a place without accessible bus stops.  Or only in adverse weather conditions.  A blind person or someone with a cogitative impairment might be eligible for trips to unfamiliar places, but not for trips they make routinely and are capable of navigating.

King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, is testing a system in which a trainer rides with a person in need for a few days so the person can become a regular bus rider:

While advocates for the disabled are cautious about efforts to push people into fixed-route transit—fearing that transit agencies will try to overdo it to save money—almost everyone agrees that it can be liberating for a disabled person to learn to navigate the regular transportation system. 

8/14/2009 6:51:43 PM

Some cities provide taxi coupons (for taxis that provide accessible vehicles) which is another way of allowing people with disabilities to use mainstream modes of transport. Taxis are more expensive than fixed route busses but less expensive and better service than many paratransit services.

James Surratt
8/13/2009 4:35:06 AM

I am a full time driver to a fixed route urban type bus system as well as a part time driver for a paratransit mini bus system. So I see it from both angles. True, we do get some mentally challenged people that take the city bus and occasionally we get some physically challenged ones as well. Most of them, however, use paratransit, and, for the most part, are satisfied with the service. It doesn't always run on time but, when they use the regular transit service that already is running near capacity, it doesn't always run on time either much to the annoyance of the regular passengers. And this is in the middle of the day, not rush hour, when we run hourly service. So it's like a rush hour all day long. Yes, more money is needed to increase the frequency of the regular bus service during the middle of the day. And more money is needed to replace the older equipment. The Stimulus money was inadequate, giving only a third of what was needed. Instead of 9 large busses, we only got 3. Instead of 10 mini busses, we only got 3. That will give you some idea of what we're up against.

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