By: Stephanie Carnes, LMC Spotlight
Many ground transportation providers today are looking for ways to diversify their service offerings or even enter new markets. One sector that is growing in major cities worldwide is special transportation services for people with disabilities or medical conditions that supplement public transportation options, such as bus routes or rail systems. The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand all have robust disability transport services. In North America, this kind of transportation is called Paratransit.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that municipalities with public transportation also offer paratransit on the same days and hours and within .75 of a mile of existing routes. Unfortunately, this requirement is an unfunded mandate, which means that cities with public transportation must meet this requirement through their own funding. Paratransit operators can charge no more than double the price of the fare on the fixed transportation system.
Until recently, the European Union did not have any legislation comparable to the ADA. Earlier this year, the European Accessibility Act, which guarantees people with disabilities access to technology, was passed. Unfortunately, the act did not include access to transportation, so disability advocates continue to work toward that goal. In the meantime, local transportation providers fill in the gap by providing medical transport services to those in need.
Many cities worldwide are not equipped to offer a supplemental form of transportation for its citizens with disabilities, or they do not find it cost effective to take it on themselves. Consequently, they often partner with for-profit or non-profit entities to meet these needs, providing a great opportunity for ground transportation companies—taxi, shuttle, bus, and car service—who have the capabilities to work with them.
In the United States, the majority (75%) of paratransit services are operated by contractors, who provide everything from reservations, scheduling, dispatch, fleet maintenance, and driving. Until recent these contractors typically used paratransit vehicles owned by the local transit agencies, but increased demand and the need for greater flexibility has shown an increase in these contractors using their own vehicles.
US paratransit must be demand-responsive transportation, which means that it follows the needs of the passengers, not a fixed route. The types of vehicles are flexible: taxis, sedans, SUVs, shuttles, and buses are all common. Usually this does not mean paratransit is “on-demand” only—passengers typically book at least a day ahead of time, though some programs offer an on-demand option. This need for multiple types of vehicles is a good fit for many different types of ground transportation companies.
Paratransit programs are being launched in emerging markets such as São Paulo, Cape Town, Moscow, New Delhi, Istanbul, and Kuala Lumpur. These services are provided by individuals and small businesses. Operators in these areas have the opportunity to establish themselves early as trusted providers.
Entering the paratransit market is location-specific: in some areas, providers go through the competitive bid process, while in others, they simply meet certain requirements and are added to a list of approved providers. The truth is that with just about every country in the world seeing growth in their aging populations, paratransit growth is inevitable.