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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.