The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) changed the landscape of local transportation. It stated that complementary paratransit service is required for passengers not able to navigate the public bus system, are unable to get to a bus stop or temporarily need these services because of injury. As a result of this legislation, every transit agency in the country essentially became a paratransit agency.
Full compliance of the ADA from transit agencies wasn’t due until 1997, which means that the paratransit services provided by many agencies are still relatively young. While fixed route had been the norm, now agencies were forced to restructure for their paratransit services, which aren’t scheduled the same way.
While some small agencies still schedule using a pen and paper, larger agencies tend to use more sophisticated management systems. With such a vast number of agencies in the United States, it’s not hard to imagine the variance in route management and differences in costs as a result.
Granted, paratransit trips are often 7 to 10 times more expensive than a fixed-route passenger trip, but in sprawling metro areas as well as rural areas, paratransit can be more affordable than fixed-route scheduling. Much of the costs incurred go to contractors and third-party vendors. Now that the act of providing paratransit services is maturing and scheduling software is available that is light years ahead of where it has been in the past, an in-house option might be not only more efficient but also more cost-effective.
The operating costs per passenger mile provide a direct measure of the productivity. How has the industry held up to the challenge? The track record does not appear to be stellar. In the 15 years prior to 2008, operating costs per passenger mile increased steadily from $1.2 to over $2.6 per passenger mile delivered – that’s a 120% increase and today things are even worse. Currently, of the 20 largest agencies the average cost per mile is $4.49. (Interestingly though of the 10 most efficient agencies the cost per passenger mile decreases significantly to $2.94.)
No More Excuses
The industry needs to do better than this. Technology can play a role in improving the way scheduling and dispatching occurs. This enables scheduled vehicles to take advantage of the progress achieved during the last ten years.
Paratransit is at a point where the industry knows and understands the costs of providing the service. The ADA might be the reason that every agency had to implement paratransit at such a large scale, but enough time has passed that it’s no longer an excuse for inefficiency. The right software and analysis will set agencies up for a more profitable next decade and beyond.