Ramping Up Accessibility While Lowering Costs

Last summer, MTA Long Island Bus's Able-Ride service added four-door sedans to its paratransit fleet as part of a pilot program to diversify its mix of vehicles. Now it's getting ready to take the next step by looking at "purpose-built wheelchair accessible vehicles." These ADA compliant vehicles cost approximately $40,000 each while a paratransit bus costs about $100,000.

With the need for paratransit service continuing to grow throughout the MTA service territory, a key strategic initiative is to address this increasing demand for service while maximizing cost efficiencies. Maintenance for these vehicles costs about half of what it does on the larger buses.

"One area of opportunity lies in identifying a vehicle that is better suited for paratransit demand responsive service," said Thomas J. Charles, Vice President of Paratransit Services for the MTA.

Today more than 14 million Americans need mobility devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, or walkers to travel. In the past, that meant utilizing a large framed bus that could support the heavy hydraulics to operate a lift. Expensive to maintain, operate and purchase, these buses served a purpose but require carrying a large number of customers to make trips more cost efficient. Typically, paratransit trips are scheduled in a sequential manner with individual pick-ups and drop offs at discrete addresses common with demand responsive transportation.

Recently, the manufacturer of the First Mobility Vehicle, or MV-1, took their demonstrator car to the Stewart Avenue depot in Garden City, to get reaction from the disabled community on Long Island. Looking more like a mini-SUV than a paratransit bus, the MV-1 was designed around the idea of accessibility.

"It's based on standard taxi in London," said Dave Schembri, CEO of Vehicle Production Group LLC (VPG), which will begin production manufacturing the vehicles as early as this fall. "We saw the same concept could be used to solve accessibility issues."

According to Schembri, past efforts at creating such vehicles failed because they attempted to retrofit existing designs for paratransit travel, driving up the cost and not meeting ADA requirements. Similar to fixed route buses, the MV-1 has a deployable ramp that carries a 1,200-pound capacity and can sit five passengers — including two forward-facing wheelchairs or scooters. The ADA compliant vehicle is available in either gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG) models.

In addition to applications for paratransit fleets, ramp accessible vehicles like the MV-1 can also serve the taxi, limo and black car industries. Once universally accessible vehicles are the industry norm, Able-Ride and Access-A-Ride can further reduce operating costs by expanding their transportation networks to provide paratransit customers with access to local taxi or car service.