Paratransit for All - A 2013 Brainstorm on Transit Accessibility


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Paratransit for All: Thinking outside the box
In most countries, door-to-door transport services are not available to persons with disabilities and others who most need them. On January 17, 2013, 24 transport specialists from the Americas, Asia,
and Europe met together in Washington, DC, to brainstorm how to start up and scale up paratransit for mobility-impaired persons in less-wealthy regions. Here are some of their ideas.

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Paratransit for All - A 2013 Brainstorm on Transit Accessibility

  1. 1. Paratransit for All: Thinking outside the boxIn most countries, door-to-door transport servicesare not available to persons with disabilities andothers who most need them. On January 17, 2013,24 transport specialists from the Americas, Asia,and Europe met together in Washington, DC, tobrainstorm how to start up and scale up paratransitfor mobility-impaired persons in less-wealthyregions. Here are some of their ideas. Photo by Tom Rickert, AEIParticipants in the brainstorming session are shown during a break in theproceedings, held in facilities donated by the American Public TransportationAssociation. The session was co-sponsored by Access Exchange International(San Francisco) and the Intl. Centre for Accessible Transportation (Montreal), andwas part of a series of annual roundtables on accessible transport in developingregions. A list of participants is attached at the rear.
  2. 2. 2Introduction85% of the worlds people live in the 127 countries that have ratified the United NationsConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These countries have agreed to "takeappropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis withothers, to the physical environment (and) to transportation . . "1 While many countries havelaws and regulations in place promoting or requiring access for persons with disabilities, one ofthe biggest needs is to go beyond laws on paper to actually take action! In the worlds growingcities, concrete actions are needed in three main categories: (1) access to sidewalks, streetcrossings, and other public space; (2) access to buses, trains, and other "fixed route"transportation; and (3) access to smaller paratransit vehicles. Many earlier roundtables in thisseries have focused on the first two areas, while the purpose of our meeting this year was todiscuss practical methods to promote access to door-to-door paratransit services provided byvans, taxis, auto- and cycle-rickshaws, and similar small vehicles.Although the situation varies sharply from country to country, the access and affordability of door-to-door services for those unable to get to bus stops or train stations is especially problematic. This situation has led Access Exchange International to publish our new guide, Paratransit for mobility-impaired persons in developing regions: Starting up and scaling up, available to The preparation of this guide revealed the need for fresh ideas – especially for the sustainable financing of paratransit services affordable to disabled persons – which in turn led us to use a brainstorming method which encourages all ideas by "thinking outside the box" in a non-judgmental environment. The result was an outpouring ofnearly 140 comments and ideas in a session moderated by Tom Rickert of AEI, who alsorecorded the comments. This report attempts to organize the main themes developed duringour meeting together, arbitrarily beginning with issues of use of smaller vehicles and practicaloperational concerns in order to provide a background for the themes that provoked the mostcomments: how to create sustainable service models and funding for paratransit services. Thethemes are so inter-connected that the reader will quickly notice that the ideas tend to overlap.Some comments contradict others, which is natural in a brainstorming session. Readers maysharply disagree with some ideas while supporting others. By all means let us know your owncomments!2Comments and ideas, grouped and edited by themes and topicsTheme # 1: Explore smaller less-expensive vehicles, not forgetting new technologies• Participants from India noted the potential of cycle-rickshaws and auto-rickshaws to expandinexpensive paratransit for disabled passengers. This theme was a followup to similar ideas inthe new guide to paratransit services noted above. . . . A central agency is needed to mandatesafety features and place limits on the number of auto-rickshaws to avoid congestion. . . . Citiesmay lack local autonomy to regulate smaller vehicles due to national transport policies.Problems include harassment of auto-rickshaw drivers by police, who often demand bribes fromthe drivers. Other comments also focused on corruption and varying attitudes toward corruption.1 Article 9 of the UNCRPD2 Comments may be directed to AEIs Executive Director, Tom Rickert, at
  3. 3. 3Paratransit drivers need to be sensitized to the needs of passengers with disabilities. Incentivesfor drivers need to be developed for this purpose.• More neighborhoods in cities may need to be opened up for rickshaws. . . . Cycle-rickshawsand other vehicles need to be further developed to handle all terrains. . . . On-call centrallydispatched auto-rickshaw services are needed, not only for passengers, but also to run errandsfor disabled persons and others. An advantage of small cycle-rickshaw operations may be thatthe drivers are known to the community and more likely to be trusted by disabled passengers.Planners and officials need customer service training, with a hands-on approach requiring themto experience driving an auto-rickshaw. . . . What would be the role of NGOs in carrying outthese ideas?• Paratransit in rural areas may need to be combined with postal, ambulance, and school busservices. Packages could be delivered by such vehicles as they ply to and from medicalfacilities and other stops.• Technology is opening up new options. Call centers, GPS-powered apps, and swipe cardsand other electronic fare payment technologies can ultimately make small vehicles such asthree-wheelers more available to disabled passengers. Social media will play an increasing rolefor both paratransit providers and their customers.Theme # 2: Promote better planning, vehicle design, and operation of paratransit vehiclesand services• Younger urban planners need to be educated concerning disability. . . . Planners in India needto be educated to incorporate paratransit feeder services to BRT and other bus and railtransport, including the use of auto- and cycle-rickshaws with accessibility features to connectwith accessible Bus Rapid Transit routes. . . . Planners need to include paratransit options intheir work on future infrastructure and development, with more emphasis on intermodalconnections (cycle-rickshaw to BRT, etc.). . . . Planners should consider exclusive rights-of-wayfor auto-rickshaws and for cycle-rickshaws and other non-motorized vehicles: For example,rickshaw lanes already exit in Bangalore. . . . There are many stakeholders: Unions, if any, orinformal associations of paratransit drivers or owners, need to work cooperatively.• Lets make sure we ask the people who operate paratransit services what they want and notassume we know the answers. Operators need incentives to serve customers with disabilities.We also need more feedback from passengers: this will help establish standards for on-timereliability and safety. . . . Legislation is needed in many countries to require more accessibleparatransit vehicles and funding is needed to provide incentives.• Maintenance and operation costs need to be contained. These and other functions could bepooled to provide economies of scale for service providers. . . . Stakeholders need tounderstand what markets are served, select service areas, and look at paratransit feederservices to bus and rail lines. They need to learn how to schedule different categories of tripsand the technical issues of handling trip requests, including when and how to use dispatchingsoftware or real time dispatching with cell phones. Local sources could provide maintenance,and the manufacturing of simple vehicles such as cycle-rickshaws could occur locally. . . .Written standards are needed for vehicle maintenance. . . . Fuel economies and global
  4. 4. 4warming/pollution issues need to be addressed. . . . Wheelchair manufacturers need to maketheir equipment usable on transport systems.• Attention must be paid to eligibility criteria for subsidized systems, which gets into thornyissues of prioritizing rides by trip purpose. . . . Paratransit services might best start small anddevelop political support before growing too fast.• Recruiting and training drivers is important. Service providers need to understand issues ofhiring, training drivers, firing drivers when necessary, and drug and alcohol and safety issues. . .Incentives are needed to hire persons with disabilities as workers within the system. . . . Morewomen should be considered as drivers: they would probably create a greater degree ofcommunity trust in systems that serve vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities.• Stakeholders need to understand the use of attendants. . . . Dog guides and service animalsmay be needed. Some passengers may have behavior issues and this needs to be thoughtthrough. . . . Women and older persons can be vulnerable to predatory drivers.• Prospective passengers need travel information that is usable by those with cognitive issues.Users need to be taught how to use the service. . . . Color and format is important. . . . Theremay be cultural impacts in regard to the sense of time. . . . Best practices need to be collectedand promoted.• Rural access is especially needed. Existing experience should be considered: For example,Canada has vast rural areas and their experience with paratransit services can be taken intoconsideration. . . . Vehicles could be better designed to cope with weather, terrain, and poorroads.Theme #3: Take full advantage of potential funding sourcesMany comments concerned taking full advantage of funding sources which may be available indifferent countries. . . . Champions are needed to advocate for long-term commitments tosustainable funding for paratransit services for disabled passengers.• Several comments focused on the need for small startup capital grants or loans to assistNGOs or entrepreneurs needing to get over the hurdle of the original cost of vehicles but able tosustain ongoing regular operating costs. In the USA, federal funding often covers 80% of theinitial cost of accessible paratransit vehicles to serve disabled passengers, helping to produce47 million door-to-door trips per year at a federal subsidy of only US$2.80 per trip. . . .Governments could also assist with tax breaks for paratransit agencies that demonstrate goodservice for disabled patrons. . . . Development banks (the World Bank, the Asian DevelopmentBank, etc.) need to look at ways to encourage private sector and NGO startups to provideparatransit services for vulnerable populations and connect them with bus and rail lines. Theseand other funding sources could take into account the increased revenues for businesses whenmore people have access to their services and products.• Tax monies to subsidize paratransit may come from taxes on fuel, a sales tax, hotel tax, orlicensing fees. Taxes could also come from road pricing (tolls or other types of direct paymentsby road users could go to defray paratransit costs for disabled passengers). Tax cuts could beprovided to manufacturers of vehicles with improved access features. . . . Government funding is
  5. 5. 5needed that can survive political changes. For example, when Mexico changes governmentsevery six years, the new administration may not sustain efforts of the previous administration.• Other creative approaches are needed. . . . Advertising could gain exposure for businesses tohelp sponsor vehicle costs. . . . Funds may be available for specific groups (e.g., specialtransportation for veterans noted in Houston, USA). . . . Some subsidies could come fromemployers that provide credits if employees use commuter vans: Cape Town is considering this.• A change in thinking is required: paratransit is part of all public transit and deserves thefavorable treatment provided in some cases to bus and rail systems, especially in the funding ofinitial capital costs such as designated rights-of-way and stations. . . . Mobility is a right, a socialfreedom, and everyone should payTheme #4: Create more sustainable service models• Many comments focused on exploration of government, NGO, and entrepreneurial models,with special emphasis on encouraging small private operators and fostering ways to help maketheir services profitable. Investors need a legal environment within which they can understandthe risks and have reason to expect a return on their investments. . . . Existing paratransitcompanies may wish to start up new enterprises for specific markets such as persons withdisabilities.• Many comments encouraged customer-driven service models, stating that local communities,not governments, should ideally decide who provides service. . . . "Empowering activism" needsto be a key theme. . . . One comment spoke of "the efficiency of the system vs. the efficiency ofthe market.". . . Traditional "medical models" for paratransit service need to be expanded tocover other needs. Service models should be market driven, not planner driven. . . . Westernmodels often do not apply to less-wealthy countries. For example, highly subsidized paratransitservices will not be available in India, and communities need to think creatively about how tomeet their own needs.• Some kind of paratransit broker or mobility manager may be needed to put it all together,fostering a variety of services, but with local governments serving all providers in non-controversial ways, such as fostering economies of scale when it comes to fuel, maintenance,driver training, or insurance, or helping to recruit volunteer staff: The good experience of theUSA and United Kingdom in the use of volunteers can serve as a model. . . .• One or more city employees could be tasked to find out which NGOs and which commercialtaxi and van companies offer services for at least some residents with mobility, sensory, orcognitive impairments. . . . This might be the time to publish (or have someone else publish) adirectory of how to access these services. Who is already offering these services? Can a cityconvene stakeholders to work together to create less expensive driver training, fuel,maintenance, or insurance?• Relationships need to be built with customers. Local communities should ideally drive servicedecisions. . . . For example, when services are subsidized, vouchers could be given to thoseneeding services, letting them choose among paratransit providers.• This implies a close look at regulations. Some comments questioned how much licensing,regulation, inspection, enforcement, accountability, and reporting on the use of funds is
  6. 6. 6needed. How much is not needed if new services are not to be regulated to death? In countriessuch as India, governments cannot be relied upon to enforce existing procedures. . . . Letsunchain entrepreneurs to go out and invent new service models! . . . In some cases,paratransit systems, even accessible systems, may need to evolve in a haphazard manner untilthey mature: such systems should not be over-regulated. Spontaneous growth of paratransitshould be encouraged. (Yet another comment noted that excellent customer service is neededin order to grow the systems for persons with disabilities. Checks and balances are needed,and attention must be paid by even informal providers to matters such as making serviceinformation available in accessible formats.) . . Some NGOs and charities have far moreexperience with paratransit for their clients than do entrepreneurs: they may be able to help trainthe private sector. Private for-profit services and non-profit NGOs face many of the sameproblems. Peer data is needed to help entrepreneurs, especially assisting them as they plan tostart up.• Several comments looked at the role of the community. People could organize locally forparatransit to serve just their own district (a variation on the idea of dividing cities up intoparatransit zones in order to save money for more trips by keeping the trips shorter). Ifcustomers want to travel outside their zone, higher fares could be required. . . . Perhaps youngerpeople could "buy in" to supporting a local paratransit system for use when they get older. Orrelatives or other volunteer drivers could get credit for future rides when they needed them.More flexible paratransit services might result: delivery trucks could use any extra capacity tocarry passengers. . . . Those disabled persons who do not need to remain in wheelchairs couldtake part in ride-sharing schemes or car pooling. . . . Community paratransit cooperatives couldbe formed. . . . Self-forming groups could use social media, instead of being formed by anexisting company or dispatcher. Sliding scales for fares could apply to more vulnerableparatransit passengers. . . . A "quasi-schedule" could be issued, while self-directed groupingcould modify the schedule and channel demand for trips more efficiently by using mobility-management principles. Shuttles and flex routes could result from this self-organizing demand("Yes, we can carry five bags of groceries OK on Thursday after 4 p.m." or "Yes, we will reservean inside-space for this disabled person in our jitney at x hour.") Students could be involved tohelp solve community issues. . . . The community could work directly with "trip generators" suchas major institutions or shopping centers.• When government funding is available for accessibility, communities could decide on theirpriorities, for example, for pedestrian infrastructure first, then paratransit, or the opposite, as theyconsider the specific factors impacting their situation.• In the context of looking at community approaches, several comments focused onmicrofinancing. . . . What about utilizing the international web-based micro-finance enterpriseswhich permit donors to put in small amounts to assist entrepreneurs? . . . Provide service nowand bank it as a credit vs. receiving service in the future: barter services using social media. . .Paratransit services could be kick-started with crowd funding and micro-financing. . . . Pre-paidsubscription service could be paid by the community or by individuals. . . . How about giftcards, donating cars, or air miles donated to charity. . . The concept of "lifetime productivityyears" should be considered in funding social mobility.
  7. 7. 7Participants:Dana Baldwin, National Council on Independent Living, USADaniel Blais, Transport CanadaPamela Boswell, American Pubic Transportation Assn.Robert Carlson, Community Transportation Assn. of AmericaPhoebe Chan, International Center for Accessible Transportation, CanadaSonal Chaudhry, Jindal Saw, IndiaTodd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, CanadaEileen Lu, Eden Welfare Foundation, TaiwanStein Lundebye, Consultant to the World Bank* Abha Negi, Svayam, IndiaBill Orleans, Hack, USAKaren Peffley, Disability and Development staff, World BankAleksandra Posarac, Team Leader, Disability and Development, World BankTom Rickert, Access Exchange International, San FranciscoLilian Salazar, Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, MexicoJohn G. Schoon, University of Southampton, UK* Richard Schultze, RLS & Associates, USALalita Sen, Texas Southern University, USAAnabela Simões, Instituto Superior de Educação e Ciencias, PortugalLing Suen, International Centre for Accessible Transportation, Canada* Russell Thatcher, TranSystems, USAJoe Wang, Eden Welfare Foundation, Taiwan* Annette Williams, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, USAKaren Wolfe-Branigin, Easter Seals Project ACTION, USA* These individuals also served as discussants to briefly introduce different sections of thebrainstorming session. Access Exchange International 112 San Pablo Avenue San Francisco, CA 94127, USA 1-415-661-6355