Paratransit Services

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Man alighting a SEPTA paratransit vehicle. Source:


Paratransit services are special transportation services that are distinct from the conventional transportation choices in a given area. The prefix “para-” literally translates to mean “alongside of” in Greek. [1] In the context of public transportation, paratransit services are typically flexible services that don’t conform to a fixed schedule or route. They are utilized for the purposes of transporting people with disabilities directly from their origin to their destination.[2] This is a supplemental service to the fixed-route, fixed-schedule services of transit agencies.


Paratransit first emerged in response to the the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which required transportation agencies that receive federal funding to either make their systems accessible to disabled persons or provide complementary mobility services. Most agencies opted for the complementary services, as it was the less expensive of the two options. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expanded this mandate to all public transportation systems, regardless of their funding sources. It also required any new public transit projects to be accessible to disabled individuals, while also mandating complementary mobility services for destinations that fell within ¾ miles of all existing routes.


Unfunded Mandate

Paratransit service is an unfunded mandate in the American Disabilities Act. [3] Therefore, while it is required for transit agencies to provide these services, there is no federal funding source for agencies to pay for them. Additionally, the ADA mandates that paratransit ride costs do not exceed twice the amount of the agency’s fixed-route system. In 2008, the average cost of a paratransit trip was $2.26 per customer, while agencies were spending an average of $29.95 per customer per trip.[2] This discrepancy presents a major challenge for transit operators as they struggle to keep up with rider demand.

Contracted Service

After the ADA's passing in 1990, many transit agencies looked to the private sector to provide Paratransit services by contracting demand-response transportation, mostly using vans or small buses. Demand-response Paratransit carries only about 3 percent of transit riders, but it represents about 14 percent of operating costs for the ten largest transit agencies and about 18 percent for other agencies. Of the service contracts that transit agencies have issued across the United States, approximately 60 percent are for Paratransit.[4]


Additional Reading

Improving ADA Complementary Paratransit Demand Estimation. TCRP Report 119. 2007.

Improving ADA Paratransit Demand Estimation: Regional Modeling. TCRP Report 158. 2007.

Scheduling and Dispatching Software Complex for Paratransit Companies.

Paratransit Requirements for §5311-Funded Fixed-Route Service Operated by Private Entities. US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration. September 1, 2005.

Trimble, Faith Embracing Paratransit Transportation: A Coordinated, Community Approach FLT Consulting, Inc. Sound Transit, Seattle, Washington. 2005