Public transportation is widely used in cities, which offer an array of bus and rail systems. For many older adults who have disabilities, public transit may not be accessible for travel. Paratransit travel options help people who have barriers to using public transportation. Transportation is a necessity and without access, older adults have difficulty doing important tasks such as grocery shopping and going to doctor appointments. This article will discuss how paratransit is a crucial aspect of transportation, how it makes life better for seniors, and what this means for paratransit industry professionals.
How Paratransit Works
These services are available for people who are unable to use fixed-route bus systems. Public transportation offers great benefit to tens of millions Americans, but is difficult for some to use. For example, bus stops may be too far from home or hard to access in places with a lot of snow and ice. These things may be an inconvenience for younger adults, but may prove to be life threatening for someone with a medical condition or disability.
Paratransit is an important option in enabling older adults and people with disabilities to live freer and fuller lives. Many do not know that paratransit is a right offered under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Many conditions make people eligible for paratransit including age, barriers to public transportation, visual impairments, cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities, and certain medical conditions. A person will apply for paratransit services with documentation from a physician or health provider.
Future of Paratransit
Paratransit is expected to grow as the U.S. population has a greater proportion of older adults. Growing demand combined with limited funding makes innovation important. Paratransit riders want faster pick-ups and increased safety and comfort. As the “Baby Boomer” generation ages, the need for additional technology also becomes more important, and the ability to manage transportation options using a smart phone or tablet can be very valuable to the rider, or to their caretakers.
One enduring advantage of paratransit is the special relationship that can develop between the driver and the passenger. Paratransit drivers often offer assistance and conversation for people who are isolated. Frequent paratransit riders develop relationships with drivers who are trained in customer service and sensitivity regarding seniors and people with a variety of disabilities. This training, which often takes the form of interactive role-playing, allows paratransit drivers to fully understand the special needs of seniors and disabled individuals, and to provide friendly, empathetic service.
Paratransit can also benefit from adopting innovations used in other modes of public transportation to make rides more efficient and enjoyable. Modern travel technology, such as global positioning systems and ride sharing can find their way into paratransit fleets to improve the overall quality of service. Through the collaboration with services such as Uber and Lyft, cities can provide different travel options, at a lower cost than traditional paratransit that can also complement paratransit systems. Some cities such as Seattle have incentivized Uber and Lyft to include wheelchair accessible vans.
What this Means for Paratransit Professionals
Demand for paratransit is high, as older adults rely on buses and other transit to maintain independence. However, funding has been a longstanding challenge for paratransit operators who provide more personalized transit. According to a report by the American Association of Retired Persons, the average paratransit rider was charged $2.26, but the ride cost $29.95. Paratransit requires the cooperation of local, state, and federal authorities in cooperation with paratransit companies.
Along with cost, operations are an important consideration with paratransit. These services require a well-maintained fleet operated by trained staff. Managers must be able to balance decisions to maintain a fleet over the long run. Furthermore, managers must engage in long-range planning to incorporate technology, which will improve user experience.
Paratransit improves the daily lives of older adults, but professionals have considerable challenges in ensuring the service is safe, accessible, and affordable. The future of paratransit is dependent on achieving the difficult balancing act of applying forward-thinking strategies while ensuring cost controls are still implemented.