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Paratransit and Public Disability Transport Services

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2019/04/14

Synopsis: Information, news, and regulation updates on public disability transport services that provide accessible paratransit to the disabled. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers. U.S. FTA Office of Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring non-discriminatory provision of transit services.

Main Document

What is Paratransit?

Paratransit is recognized in North America as special transportation services for people with disabilities, often provided as a supplement to fixed-route bus and rail systems by public transit agencies. Paratransit services may vary considerably on the degree of flexibility they provide their customers. At their simplest they may consist of a taxi or small bus that will run along a more or less defined route and then stop to pick up or discharge passengers on request. At the other end of the spectrum, fully demand responsive transport, the most flexible paratransit systems offer on-demand call-up door-to-door service from any origin to any destination in a service area.

Public transport operators have the same duties as any other service provider as far as disability discrimination is concerned. This means they mustn't treat you less favorably than they would treat a person who isn't disabled, unless they can show that the treatment is justified. This applies to the vehicle itself as well as to other services provided by the operator such as timetable information or facilities at a station. Airplanes and ships are not covered by these rules but the other services provided by aircraft and shipping companies are covered.

A variety of transport initiatives have been developed over the last years to improve the mobility of disabled people, including people with sensory disabilities, people with learning disabilities and people with a mental health problem, and the right to mobility of disabled persons is now enshrined within various disability acts.

Taxis and private hire vehicles are a vital link in the public accessible transport chain and, although disabled people are reported to travel a third less often than the public in general, they use taxis and PHVs on average 67% more often.

Regulations in most Western countries require all new land-based public transport vehicles - trains, buses, coaches and taxis - to be accessible to disabled people, including those who need to remain in their wheelchair. Disability acts establish minimum accessibility requirements to be met by providers and operators of public transport conveyances, infrastructure and premises. The Standards take into account the range of disability covered by the acts and apply to most public modes of transport services.

A variety of transport initiatives have been developed over the last years to improve the mobility of disabled people, including people with sensory disabilities, people with learning disabilities and people with a mental health problem, and the right to mobility of disabled persons is now enshrined within various disability acts. In most Western countries drivers of licensed taxis and mini-cabs are required to carry a guide dog, hearing dog, or an assistance dog accompanying a person with epilepsy or a physical disability, free of charge.

Public transport is expected to become more accessible by the replacement or upgrading of conveyances, premises and infrastructure at the end of their service lives. All new items have to comply with the Standards, so that non-conforming items are gradually retired or upgraded. The development of the Standards aimed to achieve a sensible balance between eliminating, as far as possible, discrimination against people with disability, and ensuring that industry is not unduly burdened in the process. The standards aim to improve transport provision for disabled people - whether as pedestrians, public and special transport users, or motorists - while also improving accessibility in public places.

ADA and Disability Paratransit Laws

Seven transport icons arranged in a hexagon pattern.
Seven transport icons arranged in a hexagon pattern.

The ADA Standards issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) apply to facilities used by state and local governments to provide designated public transportation services, including bus stops and stations, and rail stations.

Other types of facilities covered by the ADA are subject to similar ADA Standards issued by the Department of Justice. Both the DOT and DOJ standards are based on the Board's ADA Accessibility Guidelines. The U.S. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring to ensure non-discriminatory provision of transit services.

The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments. It applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public. Requirements address a wide range of issues including boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or altered airport facilities. People may enforce rights under the Air Carrier Access Act by filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, or by bringing a lawsuit in Federal court.

U.S. Public Paratransit Facts and Statistics

US Government Accountability Office GAO released a report in November 2012 for the Federal Transit Administration which examined:

The report found that the average number of annual ADA paratransit trips provided by a transit agency increased 7 percent from 2007 to 2010, and that the average cost of providing a paratransit trip is an estimated three and a half times more expensive than the average cost of $8.15 to provide a fixed-route trip.

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