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Paratransit services are at a crossroads. To remain relevant, government-provided free paratransit operations need to boost efficiency and integrate technological advances, the Shared-Use Mobility Center wrote in March 2015.

These services can learn from recognized leaders in the transportation sharing economy, such as Uber and Lyft, though they may be potential industry competitors.

public transit trends

On-Demand Service is Driving Technology Integration

Uber and Lyft have brought a new model of business and customer interaction to the transit industry. These ridesharing companies prove that to serve those in need of more specialized paratransit-like services, Dial-A-Ride isn’t the only option. Indeed, the Shared-Use Mobility Center foresees a major need to implement more modern technology into publicly-offered paratransit services.

METRO Magazine reported in 2014 that less than 40% of transit providers reported adding new technology to their operation, which is consistent with the past two years. Nevertheless, operations want better technological transportation system solutions and even mobile applications for interaction.

Onvia’s Project Center found that, since 2013, special districts, cities and counties have issued a steady number of IT-related solicitations that support paratransit operations. The main focus—85% of the nearly 200 solicitations—is IT software and services. A quarter of the solicitations are for telecommunications, wireless services and computer hardware.

 
Issued an RFP in May 2015 for an integrated package of public transit intelligent transportation systems (ITS) hardware and software. The authority wants the ITS system to assist in fixed-route, computer-aided dispatch, paratransit scheduling, and dispatch. The software should capture data for transit system planning and management analysis and enhancing traveler information. As a major improvement, the ITS system should allow paratransit riders to use real-time scheduling.
 

Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center shows that state and local agencies are increasingly interested in using technology to improve their paratransit services to citizens with disabilities and to seniors:

 
Issued a draft State Transportation Improvement Program for Fiscal 2016-2020 that continues to advance in technology. In 2014, Sun Tran transit service worked with Google to create Google Transit, a mobile app for trip planning and real-time bus information. Officials have continued to test the app this year.
 

Security in the Age of On-Demand Paratransit

Two concerns about car sharing services like Uber and Lyft are safety and security, of both the passengers and the drivers. For example many cars aren’t equipped with constant video monitoring equipment within the vehicle. Formal paratransit authorities have an advantage because they can offer those protections, and more paratransit organizations are installing on-demand monitoring systems within their vehicles.

 
Released several solicitations in February 2015 for on-board surveillance systems for their paratransit busses including related back-office IT software, management systems and training. SDMTS knows these on-board systems document activities inside and outside of the vehicles and is an approach to risk management in investigating incidents and injuries.
 
 
Released a bid in May 2015 for mobile on-board video surveillance systems for its paratransit/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant vehicles and other transportation vehicles.
 

Training to Compete with Ridesharing Services

The safety of passengers and certification of drivers has become a tense spot for the growth of the on-demand ridesharing services. Driver training ensures passenger safety and is an important component and differentiator to successfully operate on-demand paratransit services in the public sector.

Onvia’s Project Center found that local governments, particularly counties and special districts, have released at least 30 solicitations in the last two years for personnel and employment training, safety and emergency preparedness, and facilitation services in support of paratransit operations.

 
Released an RFP in January 2015 for a company to provide it with transit travel training services, including paratransit services in the metropolitan area. Work would include developing policies, providing tools and systems for the transit training program, implementation of the program, conducting administrative work, hiring and training employees, monitoring route changes, and assisting KCATA with community outreach.
 

Despite a warm welcome to the District of Columbia, Dennis Butler, Vice-Chair of the DC Taxicab Commission's Accessibility Advisory Committee, told WAMU 88.5 these businesses, like Uber, do not comply with ADA regulations in DC. Meanwhile, more taxi cab companies are adapting to riders who are confined to wheelchairs.

WAMU reported that disability rights advocates have told the DC Council their opinions, but legislators are not considering any mandates forcing Uber to acquire vans with wheelchair ramps. One reason is Uber does not own any vehicles at all.

As a result, paratransit authorities across the country are further adapting to ADA regulations to better serve this constituency that is not fully served by services like Uber.

 
Awarded Phoenix-based CARE Evaluators a two-year, $1.4 million contract in August 2015 to provide ADA paratransit eligibility certification and fixed-route travel training services.
 
 
Issued an RFP in June 2015 to host a two-day course providing a comprehensive ADA regulations regarding paratransit eligibility. The course deals with paratransit criteria, reviews of eligibility requirements, and in-person and one-on-one interviews for potential employees. The course is geared toward people interested in learning about applying and becoming a certified driver. In addition, NTI’s RFP includes editing and updating current course materials.
 

For Public Paratransit Services to Stay Competitive, Multiple Industries Must Get Involved

The public sector is being transformed by technology in numerous ways. In the same way that city officials are learning how to use data and technology to make their cities ‘smart’, the evolution of the sharing economy in the public sector is opening new business possibilities for vendors in a variety of industries. Paratransit authorities will always issue opportunities relevant to staple industries, such as vehicles and operations and maintenance. At the same time, transit agencies also rely on professional services for training new employees and drivers. With the emergence of the sharing economy, opportunities for IT hardware, software and telecommunications and wireless vendors to sell to transportation agencies are becoming more prevalent as the public transit industry becomes more aligned with technology.