Paratransit in America: Redefining Mass Transportation

Paratransit in America: Redefining Mass Transportation

Paratransit in America: Redefining Mass Transportation

Paratransit in America: Redefining Mass Transportation

Synopsis

Paratransit challenges the conventional approach to public transport in the United States, which depends on fixed-route, fixed-schedule, publicly owned or regulated systems such as buses and trains. Paratransit is a type of service which relies on small vehicles which are frequently privately owned and operated, and which may not work on a schedule. The various options concerning service types, market niches, and effectiveness are discussed, along with the future of paratransit. Case studies describe paratransit systems in the U.S. and other places, and the interaction of paratransit with more traditional systems.

Excerpt

During the late 1980s while working in Indonesia, I discovered the joys of paratransit. I had to. For the first extended period of my adult life I was without a car. I was, in the words of transportation planners, a "transit-dependent." I came to rely heavily on the pedal-powered becaks, three-wheel bajajs, converted Toyota Kijang utility vehicles, and 24-seat minibuses of Jakarta, Bandung, and Pekanbaru to get around. And to my surprise, I was able to go from anywhere to everywhere in relative comfort (more so then by public bus) and in a friendly environment where passengers smiled and engaged in small talk. And the fares were incredibly cheap. Paratransit's success in Indonesia and many developing countries of the world lies, to a significant degree, in hard-working, independent, owner-operators whose livelihoods depend on being efficient and delivering reliable, good-quality services. Driven by the profit motive, jitney and minibus drivers aggressively seek out new and expanding markets, contain costs, and innovate as necessary (like a Jakarta bajaj driver who guaranteed arrival at my destination within ten minutes or the ride was free; I ended up paying). It is the element of competition, combined with some of the advantages of small-vehicle transportation--more frequent services, fewer stops, faster boarding and unloading, curb-to-curb delivery--that are behind the success of paratransit in many parts of the developing world.

Upon returning to the States to resume my life as an academic, the contrast in how I traveled couldn't have been more striking. Once again I was hauling my lonesome in a motorized 6,000-pound steel cage to go almost anywhere more than a half mile away. I found comfort only in the fact that I was behaving rationally --except when heading to downtown San Francisco, Berkeley, or Oakland, where I live, there really are few alternatives to quickly getting somewhere other than driving. In fact, the only time I found myself patronizing paratransit was when . . .

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