For some people, getting to and from their medical appointments can be a challenge because they don't (or shouldn't) drive, or they don't have close family or friends who can transport them to the doctor's office. Regardless of whether those conditions are only temporary or are permanent, it can be a serious roadblock to treatment or recovery if appointments, treatments, and follow-up visits can't be attended.
The emergence of autonomous vehicles as a viable means of transport in the real world – and not just some concept car on a closed track – is set to radically change the way people and goods get around in the very near future. And although the benefits to individuals who may eventually own or share an autonomous vehicle tend to get the most play in the news, there are many underplayed areas of potential impact. A big area is the transit industry – on top of the eventual possibility of autonomous fleet operation, there is also massive integration potential in taxi and rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.
Dial-a-ride, also known as paratransit, is a valuable transportation service for seniors, people with disabilities, and those who can't use the standard fixed route transit systems to travel to medical appointments, employment, school, or even just buying groceries. For those not familiar with the dial-a-ride concept, it is generally implemented as an on-demand, door-to-door, or curb-to-curb transportation service. Although the vehicles employed in dial-a-ride services could be as simple as a car or small minivan, many of the vehicles in use are wheelchair-compatible and able to accommodate riders with different physical needs for boarding and unloading. And although many of the paratransit and demand-responsive transport services have an element of qualification for their riders, in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), others may offer services to a broader spectrum of disadvantaged individuals.
Paratransit services are a vital element of modern mobility for many people, who rely on them to get to work, to school, or to medical appointments and more. However, like other areas in public transit today, the paratransit sector is also facing a number of challenges that will need to be met with creative and effective responses in order to remain useful and relevant in 2018 and beyond.
Except to those in the transit or medical sectors, or those who have had personal or family experience with using paratransit services, the mention of the word paratransit in a conversation is likely met with a blank look. But for those who depend on this complementary transport option to get to medical appointments, to do their weekly shopping, or even to go to school and back, paratransit operations can be a lifeline.
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