Category Archives: Background

Lyft builds a legacy bridge. 

Lyft announced an interesting pilot program that allows seniors without a smart phone to utilize Lyft to get to medical appointments.  Lyft partnered with National Medtrans Network of New York, providing 2500 rides a week through the program, almost 10% of Medtrans’ weekly livery trips. 

Around 3 billion medicaid dollars a year is spent on transportation. Yet it’s not really solving a problem, it’s supporting an outdated and costly process. Call centers are very resource intensive and tend to encourage dependency. Funding for developing consumer directed on-demand transportation solutions is sorely missing. 

Lyft also needs to ensure a portion of their drivers are operating accessible vehicles. Using Lyft technology to directly schedule a portion of existing para-transit fleets would be really helpful. 

An issue that’s always gets raised—not all people have smartphones. The problem of the digital divide certainly needs to be addressed Now. However, the lack of access to modern communications services shouldn’t be used to justify keeping legacy systems on life support. 

Millennial public transport support didn’t translate to votes

Public Transport initiatives took a beating, against all logic and seemingly despite broad support. While Urbanful points the finger at Millenials not getting out the vote we shouldn’t forget that millennial are only one part of the equation. Voter apathy, especially among the more educated and informed citzenry, was very high. Maybe, just maybe, its more than just an issue?

So what explains the surprising defeat? It likely has something to do with the disconnect between millennials stated priorities and their commitment to bringing these to the voting booth. (Urbanful)

Breaking the dependence on single occupant transportation will require all voters understand the very real but hidden cost of single occupant transportation. We need to put a dollar value to the social costs request that users fully pay for the services received just as we request public transport users do.

Scary smart “Smart Cities”

Many cities are waking up to the power of using data, Urbanful.org asks “what are we doing with it?” Great question. However, the examples provided are either scary not smart or and who the heck cares? None of the technologies really help cities become more accessible for the most part, way too many are about enforcement or the even creepier notion of “predictive policing” which sounds more like a step toward a “Minority Report” society.

We need smart deployment of smart technologies. What are the important needs of citizens and their cities. It’s not enough to track weather or the number of pedestrians with overpriced sensors; we need to answering the questions like “what is the walkability of that sidewalk” to determine the type of data and sensor technology that needs to be deployed.

Thoughtful deployment of microlocation beacons could help visually impaired users (but not track citizens) move down streets. Another use would to alert users to changed states like if a restroom is out-of-order if they opt into the service, or if they are in “discovery mode” be informed of all services around them. Microlocation needs to provide end users with the option of data not track citizens. Traffic signals won’t need to noisily chirp at around 10 thousand dollars an intersection, instead they could inform users of their status directly to the person’s smart device, informing them that it’s ok to cross the street and that they have 22 seconds to cross. Indeed, with appropriate validation, some users should be able to lengthen the crossing period just by the acknowledgment of a need to cross and their physical presence.

Each of these smart not creepy scenarios has considerable potential to make our cities more accessible and not just about policing or counting. The scenarios need to be better fleshed out, use-case scenarios need to be developed with people who are visually impaired or have limited mobility. When talking about “developed with” it doesn’t mean just citizens advisory groups, it means employing people with disabilities to develop the use-cases, develop the apps and use the data to make public space usable by more people.

Of the eight examples Urbaful.org gives as example only the use of the Tranquilien app (developed by Snips.net) by SNCF do predictive modeling for train usage comes close to demonstrating socially significant usefulness,

Services to the blind Town Hall Meetings

NDALC (Nevada Disablity Advocacy & Law Center) held another of its Townhall meetings on services to the blind. Transportation and urban infrastructure issues were raised as being a significant issue. Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training, while missing in action for many users in Northern Nevada, is essential. Yet with out safe and enjoyable cityscapes just walking down the street is hazardous even with great O&M skills. Chicken and egg situtation indeed. People find it difficult to acquire new skills and to stay motivated when the built environment almost shouts “stay away”. Transportation begins at the street level, walk ability needs to become a central focus for all transportation solutions.

Disability and capability are not necessarily either or situations. Eligibility is too frequently treated as a static concept obligating providers and users to use paratransit or regular public services. When you can’t use the sidewalk to get to or from the bus you are forced to use the paratransit system. While the impact of inadequate streetscapes directly affects the individuals and also impacts other users by increasing the demand for para transit services by users who would be better served using fixed route services.

Safety, poor infrastructure and distance—the usual suspects

 

The issues facing “less cars” transpiration options are quite well know—old and poorly designed infrastructure. These are not only a problem for people with disabilities, they affect all of society. Universal design not guides solution it also informs us that the problems affect more than one segment of the population.

Why do minorities bike less is a great read as it connects the issue with the infrastructure deficits that are both cause and create the reduced usage. The moment to enhance biking options is the same struggle we have with walkable and usable streetscapes. Its also about the struggle to re-purpose existing streetscapes rather than just build new neighborhoods in gated communities. Reclaiming car centric urban areas, especially those that need community investment, is a critical task for transport activists.

B&W photo of a young child playing on a bike surrounded by buildings

What is Paratransit?

In North America paratransit is known as a special transportation services for people with disabilities. It is known as a supplement to fixed-route bus and rail systems by public transit agencies. Private transportation companies often provide paratransit service in cities and metropolitan areas under contract to local public transportation agencies. Veolia TransportFirst Transit and MV Transportation are among the largest private contractors of paratransit services in the United States and Canada. 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.

Paratransit systems vary on flexibility when providing services provide their customers. At their simplest they may consist of a taxi or small bus that will run along a defined route and then stop to pick up or discharge passengers upon request. And then there is fully demand responsive transport, which is the most flexible paratransit system. It offers on-demand call-up door-to-door service from any origin to any destination in a service area. In addition to public transit agencies, paratransit services are operated by community groups or non-profit organizations, and for-profit private companies or operators.

Typically minibuses are used to provide paratransit service, but taxis are also important providers. Most paratransit vehicles are equipped with wheelchair lifts or ramps to facilitate access. The complicated nature of providing paratransit service in accordance with ADA guidelines led to the development of sophisticated software for the industry. Trapeze Software, RoutMatchand Stratagen Systemsall provide technology solutions. Intelligent transportation systems technologies, primarily GPS and cell phones, and scheduling, dispatching and call reservation software are now in use increasingly in North America and Europe. Interactive voice response systems and web-based initiatives are expected in the future and will be huge technological advancements in the world of paratransit services.

Insight on Para-Transit

There are clearly some issues with the current transit system and para-transit system in the Reno Nevada area.  I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dora Uchela and her friend Eric who are both visually impaired users of RTC Ride and RTC Access.  They were able to give me a very good insight into what their experiences are when utilizing these various transit services.  Before sitting down with them I had a misconception that individuals who were disabled wanted to do away with the regular transit system and improve the para-transit system.  In fact it is just the opposite.  The first question I asked was how do you feel para-transit could improve and make their experience as well as others more enjoyable?  Both of their responses were ” GET RID OF PARA-TRANSIT!!”.  What they then proceeded to tell me was that rather than having para-transit in use for individuals with disabilities such as Dora’s and Eric’s they should make the regular transit system more accessible.  They also had the idea of using para-transit for individuals with severe disabilities that really could not get around on their own or as independently as Dora and Eric are able to.  They use the para-transit three times or more a week if they have appointments to get to because RTC-Ride only runs every hour.  They have a suggestion that RTC-Ride should run more than once every hour.  Their suggestion was possibly once every fifteen minutes to make it more accessible to everyone including individuals who are unable to drive themselves.  The current Access system has a lot of flaws.  You have to schedule it between one and three days out for service.  When service is scheduled they give you window that they will pick you up that is an hour window and if they show up they will wait for five minutes and no longer before leaving.  Dora had said that there are incentives given to the drivers who meet all of their appointments on time.  This leads to another issue of drivers being very grumpy and sometimes rude to the patrons utilizing the services.  Dora also mentioned that the drivers are too helpful sometimes and want to do everything for them when they are able to do a lot of things independently for themselves.  Utilizing the para-transit both Dora and Eric feel that there is a sense of independence being taken away from them rather than having the use and accessibility of the RTC-Ride regular transit system.  Both of these programs are wheel chair accessible. Another issue of the Access system is the cost.  For ten rides on the RTC-Access you would pay $30.00. For ten rides on the RTC-Ride you would pay $4.00.

Some suggestions that both Eric and Dora had to better the current RTC system would be to add audible stop announcements at every stop and on every bus.  Also had braille to the poles or boards at each of the various bus stops.  They also suggested to slowly phase out Access and put more money into Ride so that Ride can offer more routes more often.

Something needs to change to make these transit systems more accessible and available to everyone.

Ethical Issues

Paratransit is scheduled and routed transportation services using vans or buses that serve people who are unable to drive, which often is the elderly or people with disabilities. This can have many ethical issues that come along with it. In some states, you have to be on Medicaid to use paratransit, this can bring up many issues because not everyone with a disability is on Medicaid. In Reno, it isn’t based on income, it is based on eligibility. The issue with that is there are also minor disabilities, such as slow reaction time or moderate visual impairment, and those affected may not be eligible for paratransit, even though it is not safe for them to drive. In these situations, it leaves them much fewer options which is not ethical or fair to the people in these situations.

Another issue regarding ethics is that many who are eligible for transport do not live within the range that the paratransit vehicles cover. This is troubling, because many people who would be willing to take advantage of paratransit are not able to due to the simple fact that they live within the route of a paratransit vehicle. This can be an especially prominent issue in rural areas, where those in need of paratransit may not be able to receive transportation. And if these people are not eligible for paratransit, then how are they expected to travel comfortably and safely to the destinations they need to got to? This is an important question that needs to be addressed. Another big issue involves wait times for a ride from a paratransit vehicle. If a patient needing a ride to the doctor’s office schedules an appointment in advance, then they should, in theory, arrive at the appointment on time. But what if the patient must wait for an extended period of time before they can receive a ride back home? This could lead to serious ethical issues. Regardless of insurance type, disability, or location of residency, everyone who needs paratransit should be eligible to receive it.