Paratransit for mobility impaired persons in developing regions

– Now available at


This guide is practical. It is results-oriented. It is not an academic study.

It is about addressing the need of persons with disabilities and others for paratransit service when accessible “fixed-route” bus or rail service is not available or, if available, cannot be used by persons who need more specialized transportation.

This guide is written for city officials, transit operators, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), social service agencies, and others who may wish to start up or expand door-to-door paratransit services to help mobility-impaired persons to get to where they need to go. It is not aimed at countries which already have such services and have the resources and money to support and pay for them, although many of our findings will be relevant to them. Rather, this guide provides information and guidance for cities and towns and villages in less-wealthy regions faced with many barriers to such transportation. These barriers are so great that many cities, to say nothing of the countryside beyond these cities, have not begun to address the task of providing paratransit for those who most need it.

The financial, infrastructure, and operational issues are daunting. In many rural areas, nearly everyone is mobility-impaired because there is very little public transportation. The situation can be equally bad in cities for persons with disabilities who are unable to use bus and rail lines. They remain trapped where they live, unable to get to work, to school, or to medical help and other activities due to the prohibitive cost of hiring a taxi or finding an accessible vehicle.

To provide guidance in these situations, we will be helped by the example of practitioners in cities which have begun to address some of the needs of mobility-impaired citizens. We will look at case studies of paratransit systems in São Paulo, Cape Town, Moscow, New Delhi, Istanbul, and Kuala Lumpur. We will also bring in the hard-won knowledge of paratransit systems in countries with longer histories of paratransit provision, such as the USA and France, or wealthier cities such as Hong Kong or San Francisco.

If the problems are large, so are the opportunities! This guide is about leveraging opportu- nities to overcome problems.

Key definitions

Accessible transportation refers to public transit systems and services designed and operated so that they are usable by some or all persons with mobility impairments. For example, when 2 such vehicles are used to serve persons who must remain in wheelchairs during travel, they would be equipped with lifts or ramps and with safety features to accommodate wheelchairs.

Paratransit means different things in different countries. In this guide, “paratransit” refers to the use of small vehicles, such as vans, mini-buses, taxis, motorized auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, and similar vehicles operated to exclusively or partly serve mobility-impaired persons. Such services are generally “door to door” or on special routes, and are sometimes called “demand-responsive” services or “dial-a-ride” services. See page 5 for more details.

Mobility-impaired persons include

(1)Those with mobility, sensory, or cognitive impairments that make it difficult to overcome barriers to travel. Persons with mobility impairments include those with visible disabilities (such as people who use crutches or a wheelchair or a cane to enhance their mobility) and invisible disabilities, such as persons with a heart condition or arthritis. Persons with sensory impairments include those who are blind or have reduced vision, or are deaf or deafened or hard of hearing. Persons with cognitive impairments include those who cannot easily figure out their environment to use public transportation due to intellectual disability (e.g., Downs syndrome or dementia) or due to the sheer complexity of travel (such as we all feel as tourists, visitors, or newcomers to a transit system in a big city).

(2)Seniors, women, children and others are also frequently mobility-impaired when they find themselves in situations where they cannot overcome barriers to travel, perhaps due to inability to reach transit stops or fear of crime or violence or other obstacles.

How to use this guide

Readers are reminded that no two paratransit systems are the same. This guide introduces an array of topics. Within each topic, we describe solutions that have worked for many agencies without trying to prescribe solutions if they are not relevant to your situation. Small agencies may find some of this information less relevant than larger agencies. All agencies are urged to go beyond the introductory material in this guide by consulting further resources on each of the topics.

Table of Contents

Key findings 4.

Section 1: Service models and new technologies 5.

• Case study: Auto-rickshaws in New Delhi 13.

Section 2: Eligibility screening 15

• Case study: Cape Town Dial-a-Ride 17

Section 3: Sources of funding 22.

Section 4: Planning and performance monitoring 26

• Case study: Istanbul’s ISOM .31..

Section 5: Vehicles, wheelchair safety, and maintenance 33.

• Case studies: (1) Moscow’s social taxi, (2) Invataxi, a Moscow startup 41

Section 6: Staffing and training 45..

Section 7: Scheduling, dispatching, and operations 57.

• Case study: São Paulo’s Atende and Ligado 63

Section 8: Promotion and outreach 65

Section 9: Budgeting and finances 68

Section 10: NGO transportation 71

• Case study: Kuala Lumpur’s Persatuan Mobiliti 76.

Section 11: Rural paratransit 79.

• Case study: Paratransit in rural districts of France 82..

Additional resources 84

Contributors and donors to this guide 86.

* Go to for more detailed sections that augment the content of this guide.

Key findings

(1)Around the world, demand-response paratransit services are needed to supplement accessible “fixed-route” bus and rail services. Paratransit services will always be required for those seniors and disabled passengers who are unable to take other public transport to their destinations, or are unable to reach transit stops and stations due to inadequate sidewalks and road crossings. Both accessible “fixed-route” and more specialized paratransit services are needed.

(2)When available and accessible, transport modes open to the general public tend to be more inclusive, less expensive, and more cost-effective than more specialized paratransit services. Bus, rail, taxi, auto-rickshaw, and cycle-rickshaw services should be encouraged for seniors and persons with disabilities who are able to use them.

(3)Public, private, and non-profit sectors should work together to promote paratransit services. This is demonstrated in our case studies of cities contracting with private providers. Cities can also promote paratransit services by subsidizing the purchase of vehicles or providing lower-cost fuel and maintenance for NGOs and other agencies.

(4)New technologies have opened up new possibilities to expand paratransit service, such as the use of smartphones, tablets, and GPS devices.

(5)Smaller vehicles can be used to scale up lower-cost paratransit service . The use of central call centers, along with minor design changes, can assist auto- and cycle-rickshaw agencies, as well as taxi companies, to provide lower-cost paratransit with less dependence on public subsidies.

(6)Paratransit service within each of several zones may provide more trips for more people in large cities, especially when accessible bus and rail services can assist by providing citywide connections.

7)NGOs can work together to save money on fuel, maintenance, and training, and in some cases may save money on vehicle procurement as well.

(8)Smart scheduling will better serve passengers at a lower cost per trip.

(9)Look before you leap! Paratransit providers may benefit by phasing in their serviceswithout locking themselves into too many commitments. This will provide more flexibility to reconfigure services based on actual experience.

(10)Stable funding sources must be identified in order to sustain large paratransit operations. This is a lesson we learn from Moscow, São Paulo, Istanbul, and other large cities.

(11)Demand management may help expand paratransit to rural areas where services do not currently exist. Consideration should be given to scheduling services at periodic intervals along with other approaches to providing transport at a sustainable cost.

(12)Cities should consider mobility management or paratransit brokerages among the many alternatives for promoting paratransit services. City staff should prepare detailed action plans to prioritize alternatives and select ways to start up and scale up paratransit services.

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About the author

Tom Rickert is founder and Executive Director of Access Exchange International (AEI), a non-profit agency  promoting accessible public transit for persons with disabilities and seniors in less-wealthy countries around the world. Prior to founding AEI, he was Manager of Accessible Services for San Francisco’s bus and light rail systems as well as coordinator of San Francisco’s door-to-door van and taxi services for disabled passengers. Rickert is a member of the Committee on Accessible Transportation and Mobility of the USA’s Transportation Research Board and is Co-chair of its International Subcommittee. He is a member of the International Steering Committee for the International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons, that was held September 17-21, 2012, in New Delhi. You can contact him at

* For an excellent bibliogrpahy of sources of information from many parts of the world reporting on accessiblity of Bus Rapid transit Sytems, click to

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