This past summer, King County Metro Transit underwent a peer review by a panel of transit agency leaders from around the country.
The review had a rather intriguing suggestion in regard to paratransit passengers:
The panel notes that there are now many transit agencies across the country that are currently offering free fixed route services to qualified ADA individuals and their companions. (p.7)
“Fixed route services” is the industry lingo for regular bus and train routes.
Cities whose main transit agency allows paratransit-qualified riders to ride the fixed routes for free include Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, El Paso, and Las Vegas. Numerous smaller agencies offer the same deal, including Whatcom Transit Authority (Bellingham).
In some cases, like Atlanta, the rider has to go through a separate qualification process to determine whether it is safe for her/him to ride the fixed routes at all.
A little discussion about personal care attendants is in order, since paratransit riders are paratransit riders because they are unable to ride the fixed routes (or at least some of the fixed routes, some of the time) independently. Personal care attendants ride paratransit for free when accompanying a paratransit-qualified rider, but can be charged a fare on fixed routes, even when accompanying that same passenger. Companions other than a PCA can be charged fare on either service. The Federal Transit Administration has FAQ pages that cover these topics.
The Transit Cooperative Research Program produced a report on some of the challenges involved in, and potential savings from, diverting paratransit rides to fixed routes. The report gives a clear reason to encourage paratransit-qualified riders to travel on fixed routes whenever possible:
According to the 2011 National Transit Database, the average operating cost per unlinked bus trip was $3.60 ($1.80 and $3.20, respectively, for heavy and light rail trips). In contrast, the average operating cost per demand responsive trip—of which ADA paratransit comprises the greatest portion—was $32.70. As a result, transit systems have a great financial incentive to have persons with disabilities use fixed-route transit rather than ADA paratransit when they can. (p.1)
Access riders pay $1.25 per Access ride, or the regular Regional Reduced Fare Permit fare (75 cents) on fixed routes. A PCA can ride free on all Metro and ST services when accompanying a rider with a PCA RRFP. Access riders who buy a monthly RRFP pass get $0.75 cents credit toward their $1.25 Access fare, but also ride free on all Metro buses, as well as Link and 1-county ST Express. A couple years ago, Sound Transit started letting Access riders who buy Metro’s $45 monthly Access pass ride *all* Sound Transit services for free. (p. 11)
Additional Information (added after originally posted): Metro’s 2012 Annual Management Report gives figures for the cost of operating Access relative to the overall Metro budget:
Capital Sub-Fund Paratransit Expenditures: $4,872,185
Operating Sub-Fund Paratransit Expenditues: $58,094,753
Total Paratransit Expenditures: $62,966,938
Capital Sub-Fund Total Expenditures: $182,800,221
Operating Sub-Fund Total Expenditures: $629,768,659
Total Transit Expenditures: $812,568,880
Paratransit Share of Total Transit Expenditures: 7.75%
Comments about paratransit and fare structure are encouraged, but comments about the government giving out free stuff or discounts in general will be deemed off-topic.