As transit agencies continue to face driver shortages and budget constraints, delivering high-quality paratransit service for individuals with specialized transportation needs remains a challenge. To address this issue, industry professionals shared insights in a webinar on how agencies like the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) have partnered with transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber to enhance their paratransit service delivery.
Speakers included Paul Hamilton, Senior Manager of Paratransit Services, RTD; Gretchen Vidergar, Paratransit Eligibility Coordinator, RTD; and Sarah Boden, Transportation Partnerships Executive, Uber Transit.
The webinar, “Enhancing your paratransit service delivery without compromise,” was hosted by Paul Comfort, SVP and Chief Customer Officer, Modaxo Americas. The discussion highlighted how Rider’s Choice multi-provider models with non-dedicated service providers (NDSPs), including TNCs, can take pressure off their core services.
At the heart is the belief in providing the right ride to the right rider at the right time.
This personalized approach to providing paratransit service has led to increased rider satisfaction. Delivering complementary on-demand services with a layered mobility management strategy has enhanced operational efficiency without increasing capital asset investment for RTD and WMATA.
Below are the top 5 questions commonly asked during the webinar by mobility managers interested in improving their paratransit service delivery with TNCs.
- Do eligible riders opt in/out to accept TNC trips?
As one example, any eligible paratransit rider can sign up for RTD’s Access-on-Demand service, which includes standard-entry vehicles and wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs). Riders opt in to any of the 4 providers and choose any one of them as they see fit once they’ve signed up.
- How do transit agencies offering Rider’s Choice programs meet drug and alcohol testing regulations?
The Federal Transit Administration’s taxicab exception allows transit agencies using federal funding for Rider’s Choice programs to work with NDSPs that do not perform drug and alcohol testing, such as Uber.
- With the Rider’s Choice multi-provider model, are riders exclusively requesting trips directly with each provider, or are agencies dispatching riders to the lowest-cost provider?
It depends on the goals of the agency. For RTD’s Access-on-Demand program, customers request on-demand trips directly with each provider. In other models, such as WMATA’s Abilities-Ride program, eligible paratransit customers request trips 24 hours in advance with WMATA. Agency dispatchers then randomly cross-dispatch eligible trips to NDSPs based on a set of criteria and goals.
- How do you determine the cost per ride that TNCs will charge since the cost of an Uber trip can vary? How do you ensure that the most cost-effective option is dispatched for a rider?
Transit agencies leverage Uber’s live dynamic marketplace, which is what creates Uber’s magical customer experience, including lower-cost rides compared to dedicated service. Looking at the latest agency profiles from the National Transit Database, the average cost per passenger trip for a demand response trip was nearly $70 for RTD and $135 for WMATA. According to Paul Hamilton from RTD, Uber comes in at 30% less per trip compared to dedicated service.
Uber can provide agencies with an estimated average cost per trip for their intended service area. Even when costs vary trip by trip due to dynamic pricing, the average cost per trip over a long period of time allows agencies to forecast their budget.
Ambulatory riders who are able and willing should be encouraged to opt in to a non-dedicated TNC vehicle, as these tend to be the most cost-effective option compared with trips on dedicated paratransit vehicles.
- How have transit agencies managed the potential increase in overall costs as ridership usually grows exponentially with on-demand paratransit?
Although it seems counterintuitive, by including TNCs the average cost per paratransit trip typically drops even as demand increases. That’s because TNC trips cost transit agencies significantly less on average than trips served by dedicated agency vehicles.
In addition, many agencies like RTD also cap the number of on-demand trips a rider may take in a given month to effectively manage their program budget.
If you’re a mobility manager interested in harnessing Uber’s technology, please visit uber.com/transit to get additional information.