Could Para-Transit Work in Los Angeles?


This week, New York Streetsblog featured a five part series about the potential benefits of investing in a para-transit system written by Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton.  Anyone looking for some additional reading materials over the weekend,
after all LA Streetsblog won’t publish after today until Tuesday, or
interested in a discussion of what para-transit can do to urban areas
should check out Gorton’s series, which can be found below.

Wikipedia describes para-transit as:

an alternative mode of flexible passenger
transportation that does not follow fixed routes or schedules.
Typically vans or 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.

Gorton explores what benefits a city that invests in para-transit would experience and what it would take to bring such a system to New York.  I’m interested to see what readers here think about para-transit and Los Angeles?  Can a city that’s still struggling to figure out what to do with transit, bikes and cabs embrace a system like para-tranist?  After reading Gorton’s series, feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

Part 1: Smart Para-Transit: A New Vision for Urban Transportation

Part 2: Peer-to-Peer Mass Transit: How to Make it Work

Part 3: Eliminating Congestion Through Smart Para-Transit

Part 4: Smart Para-Transit + Car Sharing = No Reason to Own a Car

Part 5: Smart Para-Transit: Working Out the Details

  • Smart Paratransit should work…Think of it as LifeAlert, but with a shuttle van.

  • Marcotico

    One of the hurdles that para-transit faces is public awareness. In addition to creating the system the agency in charge will have to promote it. How many times have you taken transit or ridden your bike somewhere to have people stare at you in disbelief, because they just didn’t know it was possible. Para-transit will take a lot to turn into a general application system.

    Jitneys and shared taxis also face problems in dealing with agencies that don’t have the resources to implement or even regulate a market-based solution. These ideas are very strong, but unfortunately they require the same systematic change as other systems to get up and running and widely accepted.

  • Damien, since you weren’t in the region when this was proposed 15 years ago by the staff at SCAG, read up on “smart shuttles”. They were basically the same thing, and they are universally deemed a complete and total failure that wasted taxpayer money while duplicating existing transit service and being extremely unreliable. The current remaining smart shuttle, the Rosewood Smart Shuttle (thank you Supervisor Burke), gets less than one passenger a trip. Operating costs ballooned and people didn’t want to wait. You have similar services in Grand Terrace, Yucapia, and Chino Hills that have been scaled back due to atrocious ridership (the Yucaipa Omnilink cost about $15 a passenger to run). In the Mid-Wilshire area, the bus spent too much time deviating to serve people’s homes, and drivers found the side trips so annoying that they ended up traveling one minute in front of local bus service just to keep ridership numbers up. Unless the public is happy spending billions of dollars on small buses that will just waste fuel and not serve anyone, I don’t see this idea flying.

  • I can only see Para-Transit working if it is tightly integrated into a great GUI for users and with a huge marketing push to drive awareness. Sharing programs only work if enough people participate. If it is quietly introduced then I could easily imagine the scenario of empty buses driving around.

  • Metro tried such a service in the wee hours some years ago in the San Pedro area, line 646 City NightLine–the driver in a cutaway bus had a cell phone and would deviate from the route to pick up or drop off in the service area: It had a timed transfer with Metro’s route 446. For those who are curious what riding it was like, here is a link to a trip report from when I rode it in Dec. 1999: Never could get the agency to give me any figures as to ridership, cost per route mile, etc. It was supposed to be testing the concept, but without any numbers to evaluate how it was doing, what was learned from running it? The 646 was terminated in Dec. 2003.

    And today L.A. County has one of the largest paratransit systems in the country. It is Access Services, Inc. the complimentary service mandated under the ADA for those who can’t use fixed route buses for various reasons. You can see their statistics by reading the board box:

    Note cost per trip is $32.42. By having some shared rides cost per passenger is reduced to $25. This subsidized unfunded federal mandate may not be a full test of the concept, but it does show just how pricey deviated circulator services can cost. This is why dial-a-ride type services usually are supplanted by fixed routes once corridors are dense enough to support them.

  • Peter McFerrin

    The jitney business is far better left to the private sector–which is pretty much how it operates today, anyway.

  • The only thing I know that these paratransit shuttles do is keep drivers employed. Disability laws require paratransit to be provided along existing transit lines – so every new bus line in Orange County means the OCTA has to pay through the nose for paratransit too.

    People who are frail or disabled in some way have a hard time making it to the curb to be picked up – and they need to make arrangements days in advance just to be driven to the local supermarket off of their local expressway exit.

    The way we occupy the landscape isolates people who are not able to drive a private automobile. Perhaps there should be a way to address that issue, instead of techno-utopian pap like “Smart” handicap buses.



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Not a day goes by without a raft of stories about “new mobility” providers — ride-hailing companies like Uber or car-share services like Car2Go that have tapped into recent technological advances to provide new ways to get around. In a new report, “Private Mobility, Public Interest” [PDF], TransitCenter deflates some of the hype surrounding these services while laying out […]