According to information published by the Census Bureau, 56.7 million in the U.S. live with a disability of one form or another. These numbers show that 3.6 million people age 15 or older use a wheelchair to aid mobility, and 11.6 million use a cane, crutches or walker. There are 7.6 million Americans with hearing difficulties, and 8.1 million with vision difficulties. Paratransit is a form of public transportation that exists to help people with disabilities get from one place to the next.
- Paratransit is a transit option that can help those with disabilities get to medical appointments, and it can also assist with chores such as getting to and from the grocery store.
- It’s designed to help those who are unable to use the fixed-route bus or rail system that serves their neighborhood.
- Paratransit offers flexible scheduling and routing, providing demand-responsive service to those who may have difficulty reaching a bus stop or train station.
This service is sometimes described as dial-a-ride, curb-to-curb, on-demand or door-to-door service. The Department of Transportation refers to paratransit as origin-to-destination service. It does this to “emphasize the obligation of transit providers to ensure that eligible passengers are actually able to use paratransit service to get from their point of origin to their point of destination.”
If you’re disabled and have difficulty reaching a bus stop or train station, you may qualify for paratransit service. (Photo: Klimkin/Pixabay)
Who is eligible for paratransit services?
According to the National Rural Transit Assistance Program, paratransit has three main personal eligibility categories:
- You’re eligible for this service if you’re a person with a disability who is unable to use the public transit system without assistance.
- Those who are mobility-challenged and need to use an accessible vehicle are also eligible.
- You’re also eligible if you have a disability and are unable to reach the transit stop.
In addition to personal eligibility, paratransit is also viewed from the perspective of whether a rider is eligible for a particular trip. In some cases, a rider may not meet the standards for personal eligibility, but may be eligible for paratransit for a specific trip.
- Some riders have unconditional eligibility on all trips. This applies to those people who are unable to use the fixed-route service under any conditions.
- Others have conditional eligibility on some trips. In cases like this, a rider may be able to use the fixed-route service in cases where the stop is close and accessible. But if the stop is too far, the rider may qualify for paratransit.
- Riders may have temporary eligibility for a defined period of time. In cases like this, the rider qualifies for paratransit for a limited period. This may be necessary in situations where someone is recovering from a debilitating injury, for example.
Is paratransit available in all municipalities?
Paratransit is mandated by the government. Government-run paratransit is only available in municipalities that offer public transit. It’s meant to complement public transit options, hence the prefix “para,” which means “alongside.” The Americans with Disabilities Act dictates that this service must be provided within 3/4 of a mile of a bus or train route, and it must be offered on the same hours and days as those services.
This type of service isn’t always run by the government. In some cases, services similar to paratransit are run by non-profits and community organizations in locations that don’t provide public transit options.
The laws states that paratransit must be offered alongside standard public transit options. (Photo: Free-Photos/Pixabay)
Are paratransit fares more expensive than the fares for other types of public transit?
Paratransit fares are usually more expensive than the fares charged for other types of public transit. There’s a good reason for this: Relative to other types of public transit, paratransit is more costly to operate. Keep in mind, though, that paratransit fares are capped by certain government regulations. These laws state that the fares charged for paratransit can be no more than twice those charged for a transit agency’s fixed-route system.
Who determines eligibility for paratransit services, and how can I sign up?
There isn’t a single national body that determines eligibility for paratransit services. Rather, eligibility is determined by each community’s local transit system. To sign up for this service, you need to get in touch with your local transit service and submit an application.
Many transit systems use paper forms to gather the information needed to determine eligibility. Other use phone interviews, in-person interviews or functional assessments. After an application has been submitted, federal law dictates that the transit system must make an eligibility decision within 21 days.
Some transit systems schedule face-to-face interviews to determine paratransit eligibility. (Photo by Christina Morillo/Pexels)
Can a rider be suspended from paratransit services?
The law allows local transit agencies to suspend a rider from paratransit services if that person is a repeated no-show. However, a no-show doesn’t count if the ride was missed due to circumstances that were beyond the rider’s control. Examples of circumstances that may be beyond the rider’s control include:
- Family emergencies
- Illness that prevented the rider from calling to cancel the service
- Adverse weather that prevented the rider from calling to cancel
- Rider’s mobility aid failed
- Personal attendant or another party who didn’t arrive on time to assist the rider
What’s next for paratransit?
Paratransit continues to grow and evolve, and steps have been taken to make this service more comparable to conventional public transit when it comes to ease of use and convenience.
With this in mind, many local transit systems have been teaming with rideshare companies to offer paratransit services. For example, Southern Nevada’s local transit agency has partnered with Lyft to provide service for a portion of the community’s paratransit riders via a pilot program. These rides may be scheduled using the Lyft app, and those without access to a smartphone can call a dedicated number to schedule service. A similar pilot program exists in Michigan, where the local transit agency in Grand Rapids has partnered with rideshare company Via to provide paratransit service for residents.
With traditional paratransit, rides often have to be scheduled days in advance. These pilot programs with rideshare companies offer riders greater flexibility, since they provide same-day service that can be scheduled using a smartphone app.
Paratransit provides convenient, relatively affordable transportation for those with disabilities. Whether you’re permanently or temporarily disabled, this option can be a godsend in assisting with the mobility needed for daily living.