Long Island Bus's Four-door Fleet

LIBus FourDoor

Sometimes bigger isn't always better and a simple solution can solve a complex problem. That's what MTA Long Island Bus found when its Able-Ride paratransit service began looking at ways to deliver more efficient and cost effective transportation.

Adapting a best practice learned from NYCT's Access-A-Ride's program, Able-Ride began a pilot program using sedans to transport disabled customers. As part of that program, last fall four sedans were added to Able-Ride's fleet of 89 light-duty paratransit vehicles. So far, feedback from Able-Ride customers has been positive.

Research showed that about 75 percent of Able-Ride's customer base is ambulatory, meaning they don't require a wheelchair lift equipped bus to travel. By diversifying Able-Ride's mix of vehicles, it can more effectively serve customers' needs. For example, a sedan could be used for a longer distanced trip that may require travel on a parkway, something the light-duty buses cannot do. Sedans are also easier to get in and out of tight quarters allowing more flexibility in scheduling rides.

In addition, the cost to purchase and maintain sedans is much less than those equipped with wheelchair lifts. The switch could potentially save LI Bus millions of dollars. Sedans cost approximately $22,000 to purchase while a paratransit bus runs about $100,000. Maintenance costs for cars generally are 50 to 75 percent lower than buses. Through a combination of growth and replacement, LI Bus hopes to have a 50-50 mix of sedans and buses in its vehicle fleet within several years.

The key to this new mix and match method of customer service are advances in scheduling software that enables the agency to ensure the correct vehicles are dispatched to the right customers. These improvements make sure wheelchair customers will be assigned to the proper vehicle. However, customers aren't allowed to request a bus or sedan during the pilot program.

Currently, the MTA is using the Crown Victoria to transport the ambulatory disabled. The four-door white cars feature bright blue MTA and Able-Ride logos on its sides for easy identification. Drivers identify themselves as MTA employees when dealing with visually impaired riders.

The MTA is also reviewing a number of "purpose built wheelchair accessible vehicles" -; van-like taxis that use a ramp instead of a lift -; as its next vehicle of choice for paratransit travel. The new fleet may also run on an alternative fuel such as CNG making it "green and lean."