AB 1351 Discussion Draft: Paratransit and Dial-A-Ride

Below is a discussion draft report that is open for public comment through the end of June. To share your feedback on this draft with Caltrans, please contact ab1351@dot.ca.gov.

As part of the open comment window, Caltrans held a webinar to hear paratransit riders give feedback on the draft report. You can watch the video in full online.

Introduction

Paratransit is a public transportation service that supplements larger public transit systems by providing individualized rides without fixed routes or timetables. Existing law requires transit operators to provide paratransit transportation for people with disabilities who are unable to use the regular fixed-route transit service that serves their region. Each transit operator develops its own process to determine if a rider is eligible to use the paratransit service. Existing law also requires these operators to honor any current valid identification card for the type of transportation service or discount requested that has been issued to an individual with disabilities by another operator outside their region.

Assembly Bill 1351, Chapter 627, Statutes of 2019, directs the California State Transportation Agency (Agency) to conduct, in consultation with public transit operators, an assessment of the procedures public transit operators use to provide dial-a-ride and paratransit services to individuals with disabilities who are visiting their service territories and are certified to use another in-state public transit operator's similar dial-a-ride and paratransit services. This assessment shall be published on its website on or before July 1, 2021.

Background

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires public transit operators that provide fixed-route service to provide “complementary paratransit” service to people with disabilities who cannot use fixed-route bus or rail service because of a disability. The ADA regulations specifically define a population of customers who are entitled to this service as a civil right. The regulations also define minimum service characteristics that must be met for this service to be considered equivalent to the fixed-route service it is intended to complement. In general, a paratransit service must be provided within ¾ of a mile of a bus route or rail station, at the same hours and days, for no more than twice the regular fixed-route fare. Some systems around the state exceed this minimum requirement and provide service throughout their service area, even when at a distance greater than ¾ of a mile.

In general, the cost to provide paratransit service is quite a bit higher for the transit provider than the cost to provide the fixed-route service. The average cost of providing a paratransit trip is an estimated three and a half times more expensive than the average cost to provide a fixed-route trip, but transit providers may not charge more than twice the fare for a comparable trip on the fixed-route system. Because of this, transit operators can restrict the use of paratransit services to only those that are deemed eligible. Eligibility for using paratransit services is determined by local transit operators, not through a national system. ADA regulations define three categories of paratransit eligibility. These include passengers who:

  1. Are unable to navigate the public bus system
  2. Are unable to get to a point from which they could access the public bus system
  3. Have a temporary need for these services because of injury or some type of limited-duration disability

In general, non-ADA senior citizens 65 years and older who have no other means of travel are also eligible for paratransit. For the purpose of this assessment, we named the process of enrolling for these services as “eligibility verification” to match other transportation benefit programs (ie, commuter, senior discounts, etc.).

Existing federal and state laws require transit operators to provide complementary paratransit service to unenrolled visitors if:

  1. The visitor can present documentation from his or her “home” jurisdiction's ADA complementary paratransit system that he or she is eligible. The local provider will give “full faith and credit” to the identification card or other documentation from the other entity.
  2. The visitor can present, if the individual's disability is not apparent, proof of the disability (e.g., a letter from a doctor or rehabilitation professional) and, if required by the local provider, proof of visitor status (i.e., proof of residence somewhere else). Once the documentation is presented and is satisfactory, the local provider will make service available on the basis of the individual's statement that he or she is unable to use the fixed-route transit system, that is, the local provider cannot require functional testing.

While the law does not specify additional details such as customer service expectations with regard to the above requirements, this assessment includes an effort to understand whether service provided to a visitor could be a simple and quick process enabling individuals to contact the host agency to learn what is required and then being able to easily meet the requirements. Evidence of this includes that, upon receipt of any required documentation described above, entities quickly enter necessary information into any databases or systems to permit visitors to place trip requests and that they do so within a defined period of time. Many customers may expect such a process to be completed the same day or no more than one day later.

The entity is not required to provide more than 21 days of service to a visitor within a 365-day period. It may request that the visitor apply for eligibility to receive additional service beyond this number of days.

Assessment

Phase 1

The text of AB 1351 requires all Mills-Alquist-Deddeh Act (TDA)-funded paratransit agencies be included for this assessment, and this report represents Caltrans' best efforts to do so given a dynamic list of agencies to be analyzed. The assessment team looked at four datasets to create a list of all possible paratransit agencies in California to the best of our ability. The four data sources were as follows:

  • CA State Controller - Transit Operators - Raw Data FY17-19 (Identifies TDA recipients)
  • BlackCat (Internal Caltrans - Division of Rail and Mass Transit Grants Management System, Retrieved: 12/16/2020)
  • Trillium Official List of Transit Agencies (CSV), developed for the California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP). (Retrieved: 12/18/2020)
  • California Association of Coordinated Transportation Consolidated Transportation Services Agency (CalACT, CTSA) List of Agencies (provided 12/2/2020).

It was determined that there was a one-to-one mapping of agencies between BlackCat and the CA State Controller - Transit Operators - Raw Data FY17-19. To determine if a paratransit operator received TDA funding from the State of California, the team filtered the State Controller’s list to show only agencies that reported paratransit weekday service hours.

To add additional agencies, the assessment team filtered the Trillium list via a column that shows who operates paratransit, along with obtaining the CALACT list via email.

This produced a de-duplication problem, as agencies were often on multiple lists. To remove the duplication, the team manually produced a crosswalk file (CSV) that maps instances in which an agency in the Trillium or the CALACT list also existed inside the State Controller's list, allowing the team to join the datasets and mark which agencies are Mills-Alquist-Deddeh (TDA) Act-funded, resulting in the final list (CSV) per AB 1351 requirements. The final list is minimal, as it is essentially a crosswalk or lookup table to the original data sources.

The team then conducted an online review of paratransit agencies, performing a quick examination of each agency's web presence and assessing several variables pertaining to eligibility verification.The assessment team also developed a standardized assessment form to capture the following elements:

Does the provider accept digital applications for service eligibility enrollment?

Options:

  • A standard, web-based form
  • A native mobile application, installed on an iOS or Android Smartphone
  • A PDF form on a website
  • No online application

Does the paratransit service provider advertise cross-eligibility of services with other California paratransit agencies on its website ?

Options:

  • Yes
  • No

What payment methods does the provider accept for rides?

Options:

  • Cash
  • Check
  • Credit card (bulk purchase of fares)
  • None (fare-free service)
  • Other

Does the provider offer a way for riders to update the following personal details?

  • Contact information
    • Yes
    • No
  • Paratransit eligibility assessment
    • Yes
    • No

If we were unable to determine this information online, the assessment team called agencies to ask. For auditing purposes, the team captured either a screenshot and timestamp of the website or attested to a record of a phone call if it was necessary.

Initial Results

A spreadsheet of results (CSV) is available that enables a quick analysis of the state of play of paratransit eligibility criteria in California.

Key metrics:

  1. Fewer than 10% of agencies use a web-based enrollment process. This presents a distinct barrier to providing service during COVID-19, as service providers, care providers, and others must physically go somewhere to enroll in paratransit service. It also presents a barrier to visitors trying to access the service on a short-term basis.
  2. Approximately 30% of agencies advertised cross-eligibility of services, meaning that many do not make it easy to use services across jurisdictions.

Findings

Key findings include the following:

  1. Most agencies do not accept web-based applications. Many sites are neither user-friendly nor intuitive, relying on users to download PDFs and read through them for basic information. The majority require in-person applications to determine eligibility.
  2. Cash is still king. Very few paratransit providers accept a payment method other than cash.
  3. Many transit agency websites could be improved to help riders access and understand pertinent information about cross-eligibility of paratransit services. Overall,operators tend to do a poor job of advertising cross-eligibility with other services. When they do, they often bury information and do not use language that is not easily digestible. In addition, operators typically only target visitors for cross-eligibility information and not their own regular customers who may want to travel elsewhere and use paratransit service there.

Finding 1: Most agencies either do not accept web-based applications.

Percentage of Agencies taking Web-Based Applications, by type of application. No online application (47%); PDF for (43%); Standard web form (10%).

Finding 2: Cash is still king.

Agency Fare Payment Options, by payment type. Cash (140), Check (43), Credit (30), Credit card bulk purchase (30), None / fare-free (22), other (8)

Finding 3: It is difficult to understand how cross-eligibility works for paratransit.

Does the agency advertise cross eligibility? Mills Act Agency: 64 yes, 100 no. Not Mills Act Agency: 3 yes, 35 no.

Learnings for future program development

This analysis revealed several key pieces of information to inform a future paratransit eligibility verification tool:

  1. Of the 210 transit operators in our list, 169 (80.5%) of these agencies are Mills-Alquist-Deddeh (TDA)–funded.
  2. Additional operators may be identified by reviewing County Coordinated Transportation plans, but these additional service providers are unlikely to substantially alter the total number found to date. Given the time and resources needed to review these plans, we have not done so at this time.
  3. There is substantial variation in the intake process for providers, including clarity on cross-eligibility that will be measured in the assessment process.

Other jurisdictions are adopting new processes for assessing transit eligibility that improve customer experience.

Phase II

In the second phase of the assessment, we conducted phone interviews with transit operators who receive TDA funding but do not have a website that answered the questions listed below. We obtained the list of transit operators from a document that the State Controller’s Office published called, “State Transit Assistance Estimate, Fiscal Year 2020-21.” State Transit Assistance (STA) is one of the funding programs provided by TDA, and there are approximately 169 agencies that receive annual allocations. Of the 169 agencies, we interviewed 18.

The assessment team developed a list of four questions that would capture their compliance with accepting paratransit certification from outside of their service area. Those questions were as follows:

  1. Does your agency provide paratransit service to riders determined eligible from another jurisdiction?
  2. If yes, what certification do you require?
  3. If no, why not?
  4. Do you require your own certification process to determine eligibility?
  5. Findings

    • Question: Does your agency provide paratransit service to riders determined eligible from another jurisdiction?
    • Answer: Approximately 85% answered yes, they provide this service
    • Question: If yes, what certification do you require?
    • Answer: Half of the responding agencies accept the certification from the originating jurisdiction. Many of the others do not require any documentation.
    • Question: If no, why not?
    • Answer: Two agencies do not offer paratransit service.
    • Question: Do you require your own certification process to determine eligibility?
    • Answer: Two agencies require that riders be certified in their jurisdiction. This process can take 7–21 days. Three agencies require either a physician’s letter or a temporary certification from visiting riders.

Recommendations

Based on the findings from this assessment, we make the following recommendations:

  1. Outreach and training could be provided to the transit operators that either do not provide paratransit services or use their own certification process for visitors with a seven- to 21- day period before eligibility is determined. Opportunities for outreach and training could be sought to promote compliance with current state and federal laws. This could proceed prior to and in conjunction with the release of the statewide guidelines.
  2. Identify and maintain a current list of each operator’s paratransit contact person. The assessment team had some challenges in reaching the appropriate ADA contact person within agencies that were telephoned. The information was not easily found on the website or was not available at all. The ADA contact person could be posted on each agency’s website, accessible on a list at local social service agency offices, and reachable by a 311 customer service call center to facilitate communication for stakeholders and the public needing to use this service.
  3. Each service provider could clearly post information about their paratransit services in an easy-to-find location on their website. If the assessment team could not locate information on how to use the service, many potential riders could also have a difficult time. Information could be provided to the public that describes the ADA complementary paratransit services and the process for providing service to visitors, including the required documentation and how to request a ride.
  4. Establish a digital statewide eligibility verification service that is ADA-accessible (unlike operator websites) and easy to use.
  5. Require transit operators that receive Mills-Alquist-Deddeh Act funding to honor eligibility from a centralized service alongside their existing processes.
  6. Publish use of a verification system per agency.
  7. Publish Mills Act agency compliance.
  8. Develop eligibility verification guidelines for agency websites.

Considerations

Some considerations should be taken when implementing these recommendations.

Internet Access

When quantifying the digital divide, it is important to take both access and affordability into account. To that end, there are 1.3 million people in California without access to a wired connection capable of 25 mbps download speeds. Another 1.5 million have access to only one wired provider, leaving them no options to switch. And 889,000 residents don't have any wired internet providers available where they live at all (link to external research). Though most demographic groups have seen significant increases in broadband subscriptions at home in recent years, racial/ethnic gaps persist. 79% of Latino households and 81% of African-American households had broadband subscriptions in 2019, compared to the statewide average of 84%. Broadband subscription rates are lower among adults 65 and older (82%), as well as among rural (73%), low-income (76%), and less-educated (80%) households (link to external research). For some households, their only access to the internet is via mobile phone.

Computer Access

In 2019, more than one in 10 Californians did not have a home computer. Access was especially limited among low-income (22%), rural (19%), less-educated (19%), African American (20%), and Latino (20%) households. Nearly 200,000 households with school-age children (7%) did not have access to a computer at home (link to external research).

Bank Access

In 2017, 7.4% of California households were unbanked, while 17.6% were underbanked. The unbanked rate is higher than in most other states, which can be explained by the larger number of immigrants in California, whose access to bank accounts is hampered by irregular residency status, language barriers, or trust.

Of particular concern is the proportion of minority and low-income households that remain unbanked or underbanked. In California, 20.5% of black households and 14.5% of Hispanic households were unbanked, while 25.4% of black households and 26.6% of Hispanic households were underbanked. That is in stark contrast to the 77.2% of white households that are fully banked. Similarly, 46.3% of California households with a family income of less than $30,000 were unbanked, while 36.5% were underbanked. The figures for the nation as a whole reflected these same trends (link to external research).

Further, transit operators typically do not accept credit or debit cards for fare payment. While the acceptance of cash is beneficial to unbanked riders, this adds burden and cost to a system already high in administrative burden.

Adopting digital, open-loop payments presents an opportunity to provide financial services to the un- and underbanked while also making it easier for operators to provide service.

Limited English proficiency individuals

Most California transit operators are recipients of one or more types of federal funds. Each agency receiving federal funds must prepare a limited English proficiency (LEP) plan. A recipient may determine that an effective LEP plan for its community includes the translation of vital documents into the language of each frequently encountered LEP group eligible to be served and/or likely to be affected by the recipient’s programs and services. Vital written documents include, but are not limited to, consent and complaint forms; intake and application forms with the potential for important consequences; written notices of rights; notices of denials, losses, or decreases in benefits or services; and notices advising LEP individuals of free language assistance services. Examples of vital documents include an ADA complementary paratransit eligibility application (emphasis added by author), a Title VI complaint form, notice of a person’s rights under Title VI, and other documents that provide access to essential services. Failure to translate these vital documents could result in a recipient denying an eligible LEP person access (policy description (PDF)) to services and discrimination on the basis of national origin.

These statutes are further articulated in the California Department of Transportation’s Director’s Policy 28-R1.

Public Participation

Public participation is the cornerstone of strong and equitable policies and procedures. The community is the best source of information for what is needed and how best to implement the proposed policy, plan, and program. Input from disability communities will be critical when conducting business improvements and standardization processes. This is further articulated in both federal and State regulations.

Next Steps

Upon completion of the above assessment, AB 1351 requires the operators to adopt guidelines for the development of a statewide program to enable individuals with disabilities who a public transit operator has certified to use its dial-a-ride and paratransit services to use another in-state public operator’s similar dial-a-ride and paratransit services. These statewide program guidelines will be completed by July 1, 2023. As part of the guidelines development, comprehensive public participation meetings should be held with stakeholders such as the ADA community, transit operators, the Federal Transit Administration, the California Transit Association, and other interested stakeholders to promote consensus and ensure compliance.


Appendix: Relevant Laws and Policies

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted. This legislation explained that disability alone does not determine paratransit eligibility. Rather, the decision is based on the applicant’s functional ability to use the fixed-route transit bus route and is not a medical decision. The regulations in Appendix D to 49 C.F.R. Section 37.125 explain: “The substantive eligibility process is not aimed at making a medical or diagnostic determination. While evaluation by a physician (or professionals in rehabilitation or other relevant fields) may be used as part of the process, a diagnosis of a disability is not dispositive. What is needed is a determination of whether, as a practical matter, the individual can use fixed-route transit in his or her own circumstances.” Transit agencies, with input from the communities they service, devise the specifics of their individual eligibility processes.

The regulations in Section 37.127 further outline the process for visitors:

  1. Each public entity required to provide complementary paratransit service under Sec. 37.121 of this part shall make the service available to visitors as provided in this section.
  2. For purposes of this section, a visitor is an individual with disabilities who does not reside in the jurisdiction(s) served by the public entity or other entities with which the public entity provides coordinated complementary paratransit service within a region.
  3. Each public entity shall treat as eligible for its complementary paratransit service all visitors who present documentation that they are ADA paratransit- eligible, under the criteria of Sec. 37.125 of this part, in the jurisdiction in which they reside.
  4. With respect to visitors with disabilities who do not present such documentation, the public entity may require the documentation of the individual's place of residence and, if the individual's disability is not apparent, of his or her disability. The entity shall provide paratransit service to individuals with disabilities who qualify as visitors under paragraph (b) of this section. The entity shall accept a certification by such individuals that they are unable to use fixed route transit.
  5. A public entity shall make the service to a visitor required by this section available for any combination of 21 days during any 365-day period beginning with the visitor's first use of the service during such 365-day period. In no case shall the public entity require a visitor to apply for or receive eligibility certification from the public entity before receiving the service required by this section.

Assembly Bill 1351, Chapter 627, Statutes of 2019

Directs the California State Transportation Agency (Agency) to conduct, in consultation with public transit operators, an assessment of the procedures public transit operators use to provide dial-a-ride and paratransit services to individuals with disabilities who are visiting their service territories and are certified to use another in-state public transit operator’s similar dial-a-ride and paratransit services. This assessment shall be published on its website on or before July 1, 2021.

California Department of Transportation’s Director’s Policy 28-R1

“The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), as a recipient of federal financial assistance, incorporates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 162 (a) of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973, Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973/Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title VI) into its programs, policies, activities, and services. This ensures that no person in the state of California is excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in Caltrans programs, policies, activities, and services on the grounds of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.”

California Public Utilities Code at 99155

  1. Every transit operator that offers reduced fares to disabled persons shall honor any current identification card that is valid for the type of transportation service or discount requested and that has been issued to an individual with a disability by another transit operator.
  2. This section also applies to any dial-a-ride, paratransit, or non-fixed -route operator which serves the disabled, but does not apply to a private nonprofit entity which serves the disabled or elderly.
  3. Nothing in this section prohibits a transit operator from issuing its own identification card, except that no such card shall be required to be presented in addition to either a federal Medicare card or a card issued pursuant to Section 22511.55 of the Vehicle Code.
  4. A transit operator, as defined in subdivision b), which receives funds pursuant to the Mills-Alquist-Deddeh Act (Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 99200)), shall not require that a person requesting transportation be a resident of that transit operator’s service area.

Caltrans Deputy Directive – 63

This policy states that The Department of Transportation (Department) will:

  • Avoid, minimize, or mitigate any disproportionate adverse impacts of plans and projects on minority and/or low-income populations.
  • Provide equitable transportation services to the public, including minority and low-income populations.
  • Strive for a balance of transportation investments, economic prosperity, and environmental protection.
  • Include the public, including minority and low-income populations, in transportation investment decision-making from the early planning stage through construction, operations and maintenance. Transit agencies, with input from the communities they serve, devise the specifics of their individual eligibility processes (link to complete text).

Mills-Alquist-Deddeh Act (SB 325)

“Enacted by the California Legislature to improve existing public transportation services and encourage regional transportation coordination. Known as the Transportation Development Act (TDA) of 1971, this law provides funding to be allocated to transit and non-transit related purposes that comply with regional transportation plans. TDA established two funding sources; the Local Transportation Fund (LTF), and the State Transit Assistance (STA) fund. Providing certain conditions are met, counties with a population under 500,000 (according to the 1970 federal census) may also use the LTF for local streets and roads, construction and maintenance. The STA funding can only be used for transportation planning and mass transportation purposes.”

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

The FTA Title VI Circular (4702.1B) contains requirements and guidance that should be implemented in the context of an agency’s ADA complementary paratransit program. For example, the Circular’s chapter III part 9 requires recipients to take responsible steps to ensure meaningful access to the benefits, services, information, vital documents, and other important portions of their programs or activities for individuals who are limited English proficient (LEP). Recipients who provide ADA complementary paratransit service should implement this requirement for their paratransit service, consistent with the U.S. DOT’s Policy Guidance Concerning Recipients’ Responsibilities to Limited English Proficient Persons (70 FR 74087, December 14, 2005). Recipients are also encouraged to review DOJ’s guidelines on self-assessment, Language Access Assessment and Planning Tool for Federally Conducted and Federally Assisted Programs (May 2011), as well as other materials, available at www.lep.gov.

Services subject to Title VI must produce a public participation plan that includes an outreach plan to engage minority and LEPt populations, as well as a summary of outreach efforts made since the last Title VI Program submission. A recipient’s targeted public participation plan for minority populations may be part of efforts that extend more broadly to FTA C 4702.1B Chap. III-3 (PDF) include other constituencies that are traditionally underserved, such as people with disabilities, low-income populations, and others.

FTA/FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) joint planning regulations (23 CFR part 450)

Requires states and MPOs engaged in planning activities to seek out and consider the needs and input of the general public, including interested parties and those traditionally underserved by existing transportation systems, such as minority and LEP persons, who may face challenges accessing employment and other services, as states and MPOs develop and conduct their public involvement activities. Recipients engaged in planning and other decision-making activities at the local level should consider the principles embodied in the planning regulations, and develop and use a documented public participation plan or process that provides adequate notice of public participation activities, as well as early and continuous opportunities for public review and comment at key decision points.