Paratransit is an alternative mode of flexible passenger transportation that does not follow fixed routes or schedules. Typically mini-buses are used to provide paratransit service, but also share taxis and jitneys are important providers.

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
Demand responsive transport
Demand Responsive Transport or Demand-Responsive Transit or Demand Responsive Service or Dial-a-ride or Flexible Transport Services is "an advanced, user-oriented form of public transport characterised by flexible routing and scheduling of small/medium vehicles operating in shared-ride mode...

—the most flexible paratransit systems offer on-demand call-up door-to-door service from any origin to any destination in a service area. Paratransit services are operated by public transit agencies, community groups or not-for-profit organizations, and for-profit private companies or operators.


Over the last three decades the word 'paratransit' has migrated and taken on two somewhat separate broad sets of meaning and application.

The more general meaning, as set out above, involved projects starting in the early seventies, documented by the Urban Institute
Urban Institute
The Urban Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that carries out nonpartisan economic and social policy research, collects data, evaluates social programs, educates the public on key domestic issues, and provides advice and technical assistance to developing governments abroad...

 in the 1974 book Para-transit: Neglected options for urban mobility, followed a year later by the first international overview, Paratransit: Survey of International Experience and Prospects. These are still extremely important in many parts of the world.

By the early eighties and in particular in North America, the term began to be used increasingly to describe the second meaning: special transport services for people with disabilities. In this respect, paratransit has become a sub-sector and business in its own right.

Paratransit service for people with disabilities and the elderly

There are many examples of paratransit systems operated by governmental or non-for-profit community agencies, as well as by private paratransit companies. In the United States, private transportation companies typically provide paratransit service in cities and metropolitan areas under contract to local public transportation agencies. Veolia Transport
Veolia Transport
Veolia Transport is the international transport services division of the French-based multinational company Veolia Environnement...

, First Group (which purchased Laidlaw Transit in October 2007) and MV Transportation
MV Transportation
MV Transportation, Inc., based in Fairfield, California., is the largest private provider of paratrasit services and the largest privately-owned transportation contracting firm in the United States...

, with contracts in cities throughout the United States and Canada, are among the largest private contractors of paratransit services. In Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

, Rehabus
Rehabus is a paratransit service operated by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation and began service in 1978.The service provides public transit services to people with disabilities in Hong Kong who cannot ride regular public transit...

 service is provided by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation. In Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

, the City of Helsinki
Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

 provides a modern automatic paratransit system with neither schedulers nor dispatchers.

Most paratransit vehicles are equipped with wheelchair lift
Wheelchair lift
A wheelchair lift, also known as a platform lift, is a powered device designed to raise a wheelchair and its occupant in order to overcome a step or similar vertical barrier....

s or ramps to facilitate access.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a law that was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush, and later amended with changes effective January 1, 2009....

 (ADA), paratransit was provided by not-for-profit human service agencies and public transit agencies in response to the requirements in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Pub. L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 394 , codified at et seq., is American legislation that guarantees certain rights to people with disabilities. Section 504 is widely recognized as the first civil-rights statute for persons with disabilities. It took...

 of 1973. Section 504 prohibited the exclusion of the disabled from "any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." In Title 49 Part 37 (49 CFR 37) of the Code of Federal Regulations
Code of Federal Regulations
The Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government of the United States.The CFR is published by the Office of the Federal Register, an agency...

, the Federal Transit Administration
Federal Transit Administration
The Federal Transit Administration is an agency within the United States Department of Transportation that provides financial and technical assistance to local public transit systems. The FTA is one of ten modal administrations within the DOT...

 defined requirements for making buses accessible or providing complementary paratransit services within public transit service areas.

Most transit agencies did not see fixed route accessibility as desirable and opted for a flexible system of small paratransit vehicles operating parallel to a system of larger, fixed-route buses. The expectation was that the paratransit services would not be heavily used, making a flexible system of small vehicles a less expensive alternative for accessibility than options with larger, fixed-route vehicles.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

With the passage of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was extended to include all activities of state and local government. Its provisions were not limited to programs receiving federal funds and applied to all public transit services, regardless of how the services were funded or managed. Title II of the ADA also more clearly defined a disabled person's right to equal participation in transit programs, and the provider's responsibility to make that participation possible.

In revisions to Title 49 Part 37, the Federal Transit Administration defined the combined requirements of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act for transit providers. These requirements included "complementary" paratransit to destinations within 3/4 mile of all fixed routes (49 CFR 37.131) and submission of a plan for complying with complementary paratransit service regulations (49 CFR 37.135). Paratransit service is an unfunded mandate
Unfunded mandate
In United States law and politics, unfunded mandates are regulations or conditions for receiving grants that impose costs on state or local governments or private entities for which they are not reimbursed by the federal government....


Under the ADA, complementary paratransit service is required for passengers who are 1) Unable to navigate the public bus system, 2) unable to get to a point from which they could access the public bus system, or 3) have a temporary need for these services because of injury or some type of limited duration cause of disability (49 CFR 37.123). Title 49 Part 37 details the eligibility rules along with requirements governing how the service must be provided and managed. In the United States, paratransit service is now highly regulated and closely monitored for compliance with FTA standards.

As the ADA became effective in 1992 (49 CFR 37.135), the FTA required transit systems in the US to plan and begin implementing ADA compliant services, with full implementation by 1997 (49 CFR 37.139). During this period, paratransit demand and services rapidly expanded. This growth led to a myriad of new approaches to manage and provide these services. Computerized reservation, scheduling and dispatching for paratransit have also evolved substantially and are now arguably among the most sophisticated management systems available in the world of rubber tire transit (non-rail public transit).

Since the passage of the ADA, paratransit service has grown rapidly as a mode of public transit in the US. Continued growth can be expected due to the aging of baby boomer
Baby boomer
A baby boomer is a person who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom and who grew up during the period between 1946 and 1964. The term "baby boomer" is sometimes used in a cultural context. Therefore, it is impossible to achieve broad consensus of a precise definition, even...

s, possibly doubling paratransit ridership during the next 10 years.

Paratransit in developing world cities

Paratransit systems in many developing world cities are operated by individuals and small business. The fragmented, intensely competitive nature of the industry makes government regulation and control much harder than traditional public transport. Government authorities have cited problems with unsafe vehicles and drivers as justifying efforts to regulate and "formalize" paratransit operations. However, these efforts have been limited by ignorance on the part of regulatory authorities and mistrust between
authorities and operators.

Alternative service strategies

Following the implementation of ADA paratransit service, there has been growing interest in service strategies offering flexible alternatives to paratransit. Transit operators increasingly need to serve markets for which conventional fixed route bus and rail modes are too expensive, inefficient, or inflexible. Many operators are finding that flexible services have an important role to play in serving low-density areas, dispersed trip patterns, and travel by seniors and people with disabilities. However, the expense of serving geographically dispersed areas means that paratransit is often unable to meet the travel demand of persons unable to drive, leading many paratransit providers to require pick-up appointments weeks in advance.

Future of paratransit

In January 2010, the Metro Council of St. Paul, Minnesota warned that Paratransit ridership "may grow by as much as 6% per year for the next 10 years." Paratransit ridership growth of more than 10% per year was reported in the Washington, District of Columbia (DC) metropolitan area for 2006 through 2009, a trend that was expected to continue. In response to these trends, transit agencies serving St. Paul, the Washington, DC area, and other cities have been implementing communication and computer technology to control costs and improve service.

Intelligent transportation system
Intelligent transportation system
The term intelligent transportation systems refers to information and communication technology that improve transport outcomes such as transport safety, transport productivity, travel reliability, informed travel choices, social equity, environmental performance and network operation...

s technologies, primarily GPS
Global Positioning System
The Global Positioning System is a space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information in all weather, anywhere on or near the Earth, where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites...

, mobile data terminal
Mobile data terminal
A mobile data terminal is a computerized device used in public transit vehicles, taxicabs, courier vehicles, service trucks, commercial trucking fleets, military logistics, fishing fleets, warehouse inventory control, and emergency vehicles to communicate with a central dispatch office...

s, digital mobile radios
Digital Mobile Radio
Digital mobile radio is an open digital radio standard for professional mobile radio users specified in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute Standards TS 102 361 parts 1 to 4 and used in products sold in all regions of the world. The applicable ETSI compliance standards are EN 300...

 and cell phones, and scheduling, dispatching and call reservation software are now in use increasingly in North America and Europe. These systems are replacing formerly manual processes with automation that is already in widespread use by the trucking industry. Interactive voice response
Interactive voice response
Interactive voice response is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF keypad inputs....

 systems are the next technology innovation anticipated for Paratransit services.

See also

  • Demand-responsive transport
  • Dolmus
    In Turkey and Turkish controlled Northern Cyprus, dolmuş are share taxis that run set routes within and between cities.Departing from the terminal only when a sufficient amount of passengers have boarded, their name is derived from Turkish for "apparently stuffed" for this reason.In some cities...

  • London Dial-a-Ride
    London Dial-a-Ride
    London Dial-a-Ride is an arm of Transport for London that provides multi-occupancy door to door transport service for people with a permanent or long term disability or health problem who are unable, or virtually unable to use conventional public transport.-Fleet:* Mercedes Sprinter 312D minibus*...

  • New Mobility
  • Shared transport
    Shared transport
    Shared transport is a term for describing a demand-driven vehicle-sharing arrangement, in which travelers share a vehicle either simultaneously or over time Shared transport is a term for describing a demand-driven vehicle-sharing arrangement, in which travelers share a vehicle either...

  • Taxicab
    A taxicab, also taxi or cab, is a type of vehicle for hire with a driver, used by a single passenger or small group of passengers, often for a non-shared ride. A taxicab conveys passengers between locations of their choice...

  • Toronto Accessible Transit Services
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