State of the Art of Paratransit

by Roy Lave of SYSTAN, Inc. and Rosemary Mathias of Multisystems, Inc.


In practice, paratransit covers two broad areas: (a) a specific type of paratransit required for public transit agencies to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), called ADA complementary paratransit, and (b) all other paratransit, which covers other demand-responsive services. In the 1970s, when interest in paratransit first surged, it was thought to be an answer to providing transit service for all users in areas of low-density land use and low-density demand—areas not served cost-effectively by conventional transit. This thinking was based partially on the assumption that computerized control would make paratransit efficient. The technology of that day did not meet the challenge. Paratransit was commonly rationed by restricting the number of trips provided, the type of trips allowed, and who was eligible. The ADA changed these restrictions by requiring unconstrained ADA complementary paratransit service for eligible persons with disabilities who cannot use fixed-route transit because it is not accessible, because of the nature of their disability, or because of the inaccessibility of streets or stops.


The Size of the Paratransit Market and its Providers

In 1990, some 500 transit agencies carried 8.86 billion passenger trips, of which 68 million (0.77 percent) were demand-responsive trips. By 1996, demand-responsive trips had increased to about 95.4 million, 1.2 percent of the 7.96 billion passenger trips provided. The data do not include the growth attributed to increased transportation spending for Medicaid transportation, airport shuttle operations, or human service agency transportation, which are paid for through other non-FTA grant programs.

In 1986 there were 6,300 private paratransit companies in the United States. Together these firms operated more than 200,000 vehicles, representing more than 350,000 drivers and other staff, transporting more than 1.4 billion passengers. In September 1998, an estimated 22,884 private paratransit companies operated more than 370,000 vehicles. It is expected that paratransit demand will continue to grow as a result of ADA, expansion of transit into low-density areas, sprawl that expands low-density areas, increased life activities by persons with disabilities, and aging of the population