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.
Most, if not all, dial-a-ride transit services are priced for the riders at a cost comparable to that of a regular transit services, which allows those living on a fixed income to be able to afford to use the service. Due to the complementary nature of paratransit service, there are certain restrictions for ADA compliance, namely that the riders are either unable to navigate the standard public transit system, are unable to access location of the public transit system, or are temporarily injured or disabled and are unable to use the regular fixed-route service.
Although many demand-responsive dial-a-ride services offer "real-time" scheduling for same day pickup, most of the systems are centered around the passenger making a reservation in advance in order for the provider to effectively schedule and manage pick-up and drop-off times and locations. The majority of them are shared-ride services, meaning that unlike a taxi or other single passenger conveyance, dial-a-ride vehicles may pick up or drop off other passengers along the route, and though some paratransit service providers have online reservation systems, others may rely mainly on call centers and the use of phone reservations.
For transit agencies, dial-a-ride services are supplemental or complementary to their regular fixed route transport services, and are generally constrained to areas within a specified distance of fixed route service coverage. Because these types of on-demand transit options require specialized vehicles, a flexible schedule, and more labor hours per passenger, the complexity of the system leads many of them to be contracted out to outside transit service companies. These paratransit providers often have access to their own fleet, their own employees and training, call center, reservations, scheduling, and dispatch software and services, and can provide a productive and efficient addition to a transit agency's dial-a-ride operations. With the cost to supply an average paratransit trip estimated to be upwards of three times that of a regular fixed route trip, getting a handle on costs and productivity in dial-a-ride services is a challenge for transit agencies, which private transit companies may be able to help solve.
Dial-a-ride programs provide an important service for many Americans, both seniors and people with disabilities, by allowing them full freedom of mobility to travel to medical appointments, meetings, running errands, and more. For agencies, paratransit programs add complexity to operations, but the service they provide ultimately helps make it simpler for their passengers to get where they need to go.