Could Uber/​Lyft Replace Paratransit Vans?

by JEFFERY FRASER: For More Info, Go Here…

Paratransit vans can be spotted in almost any neighborhood picking up patients whose means, health, or proximity to public transit makes getting to their doctor appointment or medical treatment a hardship. The government-funded vans have done the job for years. But, in a growing number of U.S. counties, the expansion of ride-hailing services has provoked the question: Can the likes of Uber and Lyft do the job better?

Such patients rely on door-​to-​door paratransit service. In Allegheny County, that’s 4,500 people. And they take about 200,000 paratransit rides costing an average of $28.75 per trip and $5.6million a year, most of which is paid with Medicaid funds.

It’s an expensive way to serve patients, such as those with dialysis appointments, whose medical conditions don’t require lifts or other special transit considerations. “These clients don’t necessarily need a paratransit vehicle, but they can’t take advantage of the public transportation system so they are using Access vehicles,” said Ryan Capra, senior program manager at Travelers Aid of Pittsburgh, a human services nonprofit.

And paratransit has its drawbacks, including long wait times and travel times when vans carry several riders on a trip.

Could ride-hailing services help? That was the question Allegheny County began exploring two years ago. There were some obvious challenges. Uber and Lyft drivers, for example, aren’t trained to assist riders with disabilities. But for other paratransit riders, particularly those in public transit deserts, ride-hailing could be an option, a Harvard University feasibility study suggested.

Allegheny County tried it with about 60 paratransit riders who were under the age of 65 and did not have a disability that required special transportation help. A call center was set up to book rides for clients who volunteered to try ride-hailing. Traveler’s Aid, a human services nonprofit, manned the center, set up accounts with Uber and Lyft and tracked rides and performance. In the second phase, riders were encouraged to hail an Uber of Lyft themselves with a phone app.

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