Paratransit and the Coming Age Wave

December 15th, 2015

Christian T. Kent, the Assistant General Manager for Access Services, offers his thoughts on accessibility and Metro’s future.

ChristianKentMr. Kent provides oversight for the accessibility of Metrobus and Metrorail and is directly responsible for the operation of MetroAccess paratransit service. Metro operates the largest fully accessible transit system and the fifth largest paratransit system in North America. 

Accessibility is very important at Metro. Because Metro is accessible, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in our region can depend on Metro to get where they are going. Our low-floor talking buses and rail stations with elevators mean that someone who is blind or uses a wheelchair can use Metrobus or Metrorail. Metro can be the family car for someone who can’t drive. And for those who can’t use bus or rail, there is our paratransit service, MetroAccess. Our 675 lift-equipped MetroAccess vans deliver over 2 million rides every year to 40,000 customers. So Metro really is very important to people with disabilities, and Metro will be even more important to them in the future. Why is that?

America is getting older. More and more people are turning 65 each year, and seniors have a much higher rate of disability and drive less often than younger people. The average MetroAccess rider is 62 years old. In the District, the average age is 67. This “age wave” means more Metro customers with disabilities in the coming years. We need to make sure that the accessibility features in our bus and rail service work consistently well so that customers with disabilities choose and use bus and rail. Providing the most accessible bus and rail service means less reliance on MetroAccess. This is important to Metro because a trip on paratransit is much more expensive than one on bus or rail, and it is important to customers who want to take advantage of the most independent means of travel available.


MetroAccess Ridership by Fiscal Year, FY2003 – FY2014 (000s), Source WMATA & GMU Center for Regional Analysis

In a recent study supported by the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, we found that MetroAccess will grow to over 3 million rides in the next 10 years as more seniors with disabilities enroll. (PDF)  MetroAccess could grow to nearly 4 million rides if human service agencies send their clients to Metro for transportation. Many human service agencies now operate their own paratransit services, but for financial reasons, they believe using MetroAccess instead is a good way to cut costs. Moving trips to MetroAccess may cut their costs, but since the average human service agency trip is less than $30, and a MetroAccess trip is around $52, it increases costs for the region. Metro’s costs are higher because we have to operate a large call center; determine eligibility; and perform service in strict compliance with demanding federal rules. While we do a good job, shifting more paratransit trips to Metro is not a good deal for the region.

We are working with our jurisdictional partners to create a different future. We are talking to our Board of Directors about a future in which agencies that can provide low-cost trips do so instead of relying on Metro. We have partnered with the State of Maryland, Community Support Services, and the ARC of Prince George’s County to enable the human service agencies to provide their own transportation under a State grant, and we are seeking to have those pilots made permanent. We are partnered with the District of Columbia in providing a taxi service (Transport DC) to provide another low-cost alternative to MetroAccess. We are looking at other possibilities, such as providing surplus MetroAccess vans to human service agencies and providing technical assistance to cities and counties that want to start their own services.

There are many different specialized transportation services for customers with disabilities in the region. Metro’s role (besides delivering high-quality paratransit service) is to take a leadership role in making sure that the region addresses how best to use its resources; to deliver the most service at the most reasonable cost; to refer customers to the service that best meets their needs; and to make sure that the people with disabilities in the region get where they need to go. It is something we all need to work toward.

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  1. BTA
    December 15th, 2015 at 16:39 | #1

    What are the odds of moving toward Uber like platforms where you can use a looser network of private contractors who are essentially on call when they want to be to provide services to customers with less intensive needs? Does ADA currently allow a less hands on approach?

  2. December 16th, 2015 at 16:59 | #2

    Thank you BTA. Great questions.

    The answer to both of your questions is a resounding yes. Metro is allowed to develop and offer paratransit eligible customers non-ADA alternatives, and Metro’s Department of Access Services is actively pursuing a number of options that will not only provide our MetroAccess customers with a better travel experience, but can also greatly reduce the region’s specialized transportation expenses.

    One such alternative is TransportDC in Washington, DC. This service, which is operated by the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission, and supported through an abundance of in-kind services from Metro, offers DC residents eligible for MetroAccess, the option to take a more convenient and less expensive taxicab ride to/from their desired destinations instead of using MetroAccess. Customers call a single toll-free number, which connects them to one of the TransportDC service providers, and a cab will soon be on its way. The service provides a same-day, non-shared ride featuring shorter travel times and a flat $5 fare.

    Going forward, Metro anticipates partnering with one or more transportation network companies and other transportation providers to further expand specialized transportation options in the region and at lower costs. Please stay tuned.

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