Guest Op-Ed: BART’s MOD On-Ramp Project: On-Demand Ride Hailing for Wheelchair Users

As transit agencies continue to seek improvement in MOD options for individuals with disabilities, innovative pilot partnerships can provide valuable lessons learned to guide future public-private collaborations. Eno’s recently published report, Toward Universal Access: A Case Study in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound Regions, provides valuable insights for accessibility using two case studies.

But agencies in the Los Angeles and the Puget Sound regions are hardly the only ones testing accessible MOD pilots. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is currently collaborating with community stakeholders to develop an app-based service with the capability of providing on-demand ride hailing for individuals who use wheelchairs. Such a service holds promise for improving access to transit and other critical facilities for Bay Area riders requiring WAVs. Similar to Eno’s analysis, the BART example highlights the value of flexibility in the planning and execution of the pilot as well as engaging the community and other partners early in the pilot design.

BART was selected in June 2018 as one of six public transportation providers invited by FTA to join the MOD On-Ramp Program. The program provided support for BART to work with municipal and community partners on vetting and developing a concept for expanding on-demand transportation services for individuals who use wheelchairs.

The MOD On-Ramp Program builds upon FTA’s MOD Sandbox Program, which assists transit agencies with the integration of new MOD tools and leverages shared learning resources. Lessons learned from BART’s earlier MOD Sandbox Demonstration project, the BART Integrated Carpool to Transit Access Program, informed the scope for the On-Ramp project, particularly in regard to overcoming challenges to matching riders in wheelchairs with wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs).

BART’s original MOD On-Ramp project proposal entailed developing an on-demand ride-hailing service that passengers with physical disabilities could use when station elevator service disruptions make transit platforms otherwise inaccessible. In developing this service, BART also sought to improve upon and streamline its existing WAV service offerings.

The series of feasibility studies and stakeholder workshops that kicked off the On-Ramp project brought together partners from municipalities, independent living centers, and software development companies to vet and improve the proposed idea. Key partners in the On-Ramp project include the cities of Oakland and Fremont, East Bay Paratransit, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Community Resources for Independent Living, software developer Goin, driver organizations, and the BART Accessibility Task Force.

Stakeholder questions and concerns, particularly those voiced by the disability community, led BART to alter the scope of the initial project to become more inclusive of varying WAV rider trip needs and to better leverage the available resources of potential partners, such as existing WAV fleets. Based on stakeholder feedback, BART expanded its project goals from providing rides only for mitigating station elevator breakdowns to include provision of first- and last-mile service for anyone requiring a WAV near BART stations at any time. Service areas expanded to a larger geofenced zone including hospitals and city-run service programs, enabling the service to meet WAV demand from non-BART passengers travelling in and around stations.

In addition to expanding the pool of potential users of the service, the team also broadened the range of potential drivers. While the original service concept envisioned relying upon pre-screened TNC drivers, discussions with community partners uncovered additional sources of qualified drivers, including some already operating WAV services through independent living centers, hospitals, and city-run programs.

As the project developed, the vehicle procurement and operation strategy also changed. Initially, BART had planned to administer a fleet of dedicated WAVs for the service, but independent living centers engaged through the project offered to manage the service vehicles, using their own stock. This partnership meant that the WAVs, a valuable resource, could be shared more broadly among the group of riders who specifically require them, as opposed to trying to match WAVs with wheelchair users in a mixed fleet serving the broader population.

For BART, the key lesson learned during the On-Ramp process was the importance of engaging partners, future users, and the public early on during initial concept development so they would have the opportunity to influence the development of the project. The process of vetting and evolving the initial concept resulted in a more inclusive and resource-efficient service concept. Next steps for the pilot project include creating an app that will provide riders with the full range of potential travel options for comparison, including, but not limited to, the staged WAV vehicles. BART has begun internal development of the app and plans to seek grant funding to support pilot testing.

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