Toward Universal Access: Lessons from Eno’s Latest Report on Transit MOD Partnerships

Lessons learned from a pilot project in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound regions can help guide future mobility on demand (MOD) transit service partnerships toward better service for people with physical disabilities. Eno’s newest report, Toward Universal Access: A Case Study in the Los Angeles and Puget Sound Regions, highlights best practices and recommendations for future MOD services.

As part of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Mobility on Demand Sandbox Demonstration Program, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) collaborated with King County, Washington Metro Transit (King County Metro) and the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) to explore ways of improving first/last mile service to select transit stations near disadvantaged communities. An explicit goal of the partnership was the development of cost-effective solutions for improving access to transit for disabled and low-income individuals.

Recent technological advances have facilitated the deployment of MOD in new ways that have the potential to increase equity and accessibility in the provision of public transportation services. As a result, transit agencies have begun exploring partnerships with transportation network companies (TNCs) to better serve the approximately 61 million U.S. adults who live with some form of disability.

LA Metro, King County Metro, and Sound Transit all worked with Via, their contracted MOD provider, to develop performance measures with adjustable targets to meet their accessibility goals. Continuous tracking of these key performance indicators (KPIs) helped the project partners to monitor whether people requesting WAVs receive service that meets the standards of service for all users.

In the Los Angeles region, 961 WAV trips were requested in the first year of the pilot service. Via drivers participating in the program had the option to rent WAVs from a third-party vendor. Although WAV customers participating in the program experienced longer and less predictable wait times than non-WAV customers, the on-demand nature of the service and the lower price of rides generally provided better outcomes for riders than traditional paratransit. Although outreach challenges remain, WAV users provided positive feedback about both the service and the drivers.

In the Puget Sound region, a dedicated fleet of retrofitted vehicles provided comfortable service to riders requiring WAVs, although feedback from the disability community suggested that accommodations for people physical disabilities like low vision or hearing could be improved. As in the Los Angeles region, Puget Sound pilot WAV riders generally waited longer and experienced more uncertain wait times for their rides than non-WAV users. Also similarly, program participants determined that more and earlier outreach to the disability community would have benefitted the pilot service. The Via to Transit program provided 701 WAV trips in its first year.

Eno worked closely with the project partners to synthesize lessons learned for expanding the study, assessment, and access of mobility for all MOD service users. The resultant policy report provides nine recommendations for agencies and TNCs, which fall into three primary categories.

The first is that MOD pilots need to proactively work with the disabilities community to understand their needs. This means engaging with the disability community and stakeholders directly during project development, planning, and operational service. The private provider(s) should be involved in these early conversations so they can plan for modifications to their services and know how to meet agency goals.

The second area of recommendations involve making preparations for meeting and exceeding ADA compliance. Agencies should budget liberally for unforeseen expenses, and they should provide flexibility in the app and in the plans to adapt to customers’ needs. The pilot or service needs to train as many drivers as possible to provide service to all potential users. But it should also have a backup plan, such as additional contracts with taxi companies, to ensure enough supply is available to meet demand.

Finally, agencies need to make sure they transparently measure and report the performance of the system. This helps agencies and private providers stay accountable and can inform improvements for future system iterations.

The details behind this analysis and recommendations are found in the full report, which was released on November 6.

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