What You Need To Know About Paratransit Services


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

Paratransit is a vital transportation service for riders with disabilities. However, it doesn't come without its challenges. In this article, we'll discuss the benefits and challenges of paratransit services as well as online tools that can help improve them.

What is Paratransit?

Paratransit is a service that provides specialized transportation for riders with disabilities who cannot use fixed-route public transit, either some or all of the time. It is a comparable service created to supplement public fixed-route services and provide transportation for every rider.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public transit agencies provide “complementary paratransit” services to riders who cannot use an established fixed-route bus or rail service because of a physical or cognitive disability.

The Benefits of Paratransit Services

Provides Door-to-Door Service

Riders who are unable to independently use the regular public transit system are picked up and dropped off at their destinations. Vans and other vehicles are equipped with wheelchair lifts and ramps to make boarding easier.

Reservations Accepted

Unlike fixed-schedule transit services, paratransit riders can request rides ahead of time. Despite the flexibility, however, there are no means or requirements for same-day service. This leaves passengers who need a ride on the very day they’re calling without any form of public transport.

Online Tools Improving Services

Mobile applications and web-based online tools continue to improve the reliability and predictability of paratransit services. Many transit systems are implementing user-friendly online tools so paratransit riders can personally manage and monitor requested services.

Who Qualifies for Paratransit Services?

An individual is only included under the protection of ADA if they fall into one of three categories:

  • A person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • A person who has a history or record of such an impairment
  • A person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment‌

Eligibility for paratransit services is further determined on a community basis. To qualify, it is usually necessary to submit an application with supporting documentation, which is often followed by personal interviews to assess an applicant’s ability to use fixed-route services.

In terms of the specific qualifying disability, persons must be unable, due to mental, visual, or physical impairment, to board, ride, or disembark from an accessible bus or train without assistance. Some transit agencies strictly limit eligibility to those who are functionally unable to use any fixed-route services, while others expand eligibility to non-ADA seniors with no other means of transport.

Additionally, complementary paratransit services are restricted by geographical location. The ADA requires that services be provided to persons within ¾ of a mile of a fixed bus route or rail station. It should also operate at the same hours and on the same number of days for no more than twice the regular fixed-route fare.

The Challenges of Paratransit Services

To adhere to ADA guidelines, public transit agencies must make appropriate accommodations for persons with disabilities. However, the ADA also permits transit agencies to operate using several cost-cutting measures to help transit agencies manage the exorbitant cost of such services. Some of these include:


Public transit is, by definition, a rideshare service with other riders going to the same fixed locations. The ADA’s definition of paratransit was designed to follow the public transit model.

As a result, other paratransit riders may be picked up during the trip you have planned. Your careful preparation cannot account for these additional riders and may lead to meandering journeys as other passengers are either picked up or dropped off at various destinations.

Not being able to discharge passengers at fixed-route locations increases unpredictability and makes paratransit less convenient and far less reliable than ordinary public transit.

Prepare for Extensive Delays

Pick-Up Time WindowsUnlike scheduled fixed-route services, the ADA allows public transit agencies to arrive within a specified pick-up window, usually around 30 minutes. Due to inconsistencies in traffic, delays are unpredictable and could result in prolonged wait times.

Negotiated Pick-Up TimesIn an effort to minimize the expense of essentially on-demand services, the ADA permits transit agencies to negotiate pick-up times as much as an hour before your requested time or one hour after your requested time. This cost-cutting measure is problematic when trying to get to your home or destination at a particular time.

Unpredictability of Schedules

Paratransit faces a number of operational and accessibility issues. On any given day, traffic conditions are affected by weather and congestion on the roads. You must also factor in breakdowns, accidents, construction detours, drivers calling out sick, and customers who cancel already arranged trips. Because of this, accessible transportation must be more streamlined.

Service limitations, coupled with delays in pick-up and unpredictable arrival times result in an extremely unreliable paratransit service system. Having to rely on such an unpredictable and uncertain means of transportation causes anxiety, frustration, and feelings of helplessness for many paratransit riders.

Working to End Discrimination

The freedom of mobility is never in question for those of us who can use fixed-route transportation should the need arise. For millions of other Americans, the use of public transportation continues to be a challenge.

The ADA continues to work tirelessly to protect those with disabilities and guarantee that they are afforded the same travel opportunities and mobility as every other person. Paratransit services remain the primary source of mobility for persons with disabilities in our communities.

Online Tools That Improve Paratransit Services

Using mobile applications and web-based tools, riders are empowered with the ability to book rides, monitor arrival times, and view estimated pick-up and drop-off times. If riders have to cancel trip requests, software systems provided by Remix enable transit agencies to quickly redesign the routes for rides on any given day.

On demand paratransit with Remix and VIA offers another incredibly innovative solution so riders can request and monitor their paratransit services right from their smartphones. This powerful technology enables the seamless integration of multiple routes and passengers.

Plus, same-day service requests can direct passengers to nearby pick-up or drop-off points, without added delays or lengthy detours. Such successful programs improve paratransit services for all participants.

Contact us today to learn how you can improve your paratransit service for your community.