The National Academies

TCRP B-48 [Active]

The Provision of Alternative Services by Transit Agencies: The Intersection of Regulation and Program Objectives

  Project Data
Funds: $350,000
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Research Agency: KFH
Principal Investigator: Elizabeth ( Buffy) Ellis
Effective Date: 10/14/2020
Completion Date: 10/15/2022

With increasing frequency, transit agencies are turning to ride-sourcing services, also known as transportation network companies (such as Lyft and Uber), taxis, and other non-dedicated service providers in offering alternative services to individuals with disabilities. For purposes of this study, individuals with disabilities are persons certified as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit eligible or could be certified as such. In TCRP Synthesis 135: ADA Paratransit Service Models, “alternative service” is defined as a transit-subsidized on-demand mobility option offered by a transit agency to ADA paratransit individuals. The service must be compliant with the ADA, but does not fall under the service criteria governing ADA Complementary Paratransit. According to the definition this is because:
the decision to use the alternative service is totally up to the customer; while the transit agency can offer/suggest the alternative service option, the customer may still choose to use the ADA paratransit service; a customer choosing to use the alternative service does not impact the customer’s ADA paratransit eligibility or right to continue to request trips on the ADA paratransit service; and none of the vehicles used are owned, operated or controlled by the transit agency. 
Successful alternative services have long been favored by many individuals with disabilities, as they provide immediate, on-demand service compared to the next-day service of most ADA paratransit services. Moreover, transit agencies have instituted such services in part because of the opportunities the programs provide to reduce overall paratransit costs. If the savings from individuals with disabilities using a (lower-subsidy) alternative service for trip(s) instead of the ADA paratransit service are more than the additional subsidies that the transit agency pays for new travel demand on the alternative service(s), then the transit agency is able to reduce cost. However, this is a challenge to prove as there is no collection of data about how transit agencies are calculating the savings. The industry would benefit from a conclusive and common way to determine whether or not a reduction in cost has been achieved.
The most common example of an alternative service is a taxi-based subsidy program sponsored by a transit agency. While such programs have been made available to individuals with disabilities for decades, the concept of “user-choice” as a pre-requisite for such services has been interpreted in a variety of ways. For example, while the term originally meant “the customer chooses whether or not to use the service,” the definition has morphed into a prerequisite for participation from at least two carriers. In some cases, this has led to the non-implementation or discontinuance of viable and needed services for individuals with disabilities. In other cases, such single-carrier subsidy programs have been allowed to continue.
In addition, equity issues have proven challenging in some instances. These issues have been accentuated with the advent of ride-sourcing services. Several transit agencies have already implemented an alternative service using one or more ride-sourcing and taxi services in whole or in part. In several cases alternative services have struggled to meet the ADA standard for service equivalency (49 C.F.R. § 37.77(c)). An example is ensuring that the response time for service will be equivalent for all individuals regardless of geographical location or vehicle requirements. Additional equity issues include smartphone access and access to banking, among others (refer to 49 C.F.R. § 37.77(c); FTA C 4710.1 Ch.7 § 7.4).
There are many regulatory issues involved in the deployment of alternative services. One of these is the issue of liability. In the case of alternative services with provider contracts, most transit agencies have built into the provider contract a requirement for liability coverage. In cases where the contract is simply an agreement to reimburse the provider, liability coverage is uncertain. A further complication is that federal, state, and local laws and regulations are unclear on the “duty of care” and potential agency liability for data security breaches and negligent hiring.
The objective of this research is to understand how taxis, ride-sourcing services, and other non-dedicated service providers are being used for alternative services for individuals with disabilities. This research should address:
1. The interpretation and application of pertinent federal regulations, statutes, and guidelines;
2. The mobility benefits and challenges that alternative services produce for the individuals;
3. The impacts that these services have on customer travel patterns;
4. The costs of both on-demand and traditional paratransit services to the transit agencies and the individuals;
5. Data transit agencies collect from providers and uses for these data services, as well as any unmet data needs and purposes; and 
6. Best-practice design models for alternative services that have resulted in transit agencies achieving their goals as well as service equivalency and reduction in cost while also increasing mobility.

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