Monday, April 29, 2013

Para Transit Dilemma in D.C.

Public transit providers are required by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide complementary para transit service to people with disabilities who cannot use regular fixed-route services. Para transit is a an alternative mode of transportation, typically provided by minibuses, that will pick people up from their homes and drive them to their destinations. The para transit service is required to be comparable to fixed-route service in cost, accessibility, and operating hours. This creates a serious equity challenge for agencies like WMATA, who are facing increasing costs of up to almost $100 million per year due to growing populations of senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Para transit in Washington D.C. is becoming too expensive to provide. Both the riders and local jurisdiction are finding it increasingly difficult to fund the service and is experiencing serious problems as a result. In D.C., para transit riders pay $7 per ride and the local jurisdiction pays WMATA $45. Because of the high the cost of providing para transit, riders are experiencing poor treatment, poor routing, long waits, and vehicle breakdowns.

One solution includes using taxis to fill in the gaps with service and help offset the costs. Many service providers have contracts with taxi companies. WMATA is currently undergoing changes to how it contracts with other service providers to increase efficiency for people with disabilities. Instead of having one contractor responsible for operating the entire service, several companies will be allowed to participate, particularly in areas of specialization. Areas of specialization include call centers, quality assurance, and service delivery (taxis). The idea is to increase on-time performance by holding multiple specialized contractors to higher standards with disincentives for not meeting those standards.

What’s interesting is that the new contracts with specialized vendors will be held to more stringent standards without any clear incentives. The key changes to standards and enforcement seem to include only penalties:
  • Failure to meet 92% on-time performance standard will result in a higher disincentive
  • Failure to meet 90% on-time performance will result in an additional penalty
  • Meeting efficiency standard without also meeting the on-time performance standard will not qualify the contractor for an incentive payment
The list includes four more specific standards that either disqualifies a contractor for incentive payment or results in penalties. 

There is a serious need for providing para transit services to maintain a level of accessible equity for people with disabilities or the inability to drive. It seems strange though that if local jurisdictions are struggling to fund the service and contractors such as taxis make the service more efficient and less costly, then why are the creating barriers through additional disincentives? Shouldn't there be more focus on an incentive structure that  encourages specialized contractors?  


  1. But don't these "penalties" actually just function as a reduction in the payment they receive, so the system is just incentivizing on-time service? I'm not convinced that high standards for on-time service would discourage a contractor from capitalizing on a market that didn't exist before. The existence of the market is a sufficient incentive, right?

  2. I like the idea of taxis. Way cheaper than trying to get rail to go everywhere.

  3. CJ, your post brings up a couple of good points. We call all agree that the ADA is an important piece of legislation however, like many pieces of federal legislation, it is an unfunded mandate. Transit systems that were already cash strapped now have to provide an additional service that really doesn't fit into the main business model of transit agencies. For many agencies para transit service is taking up more than 20 to 25% of their budget.

    The second point beyond being an unfunded mandate is how do we fund it. Can an alternative funding source be created to fund para transit service so that cost on put on the backs of the riders of regular service?

    As the population ages, we are going to need to find more solutions to the cost of para transit service.


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