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It seems like dial-a-ride systems could benefit massively from the improved dispatching that computers make possible, and things like smartphones could greatly improve the user interface as well. You could have an app that lets you order a ride from "here" (determined by GPS) to a point that you pick on a map, letting you know how long it will be until you are picked up and how long the trip will likely take, and how much it will cost. Very different, and likely to be much more popular, than the earlier model of "schedule your ride at least 24 hours in advance".

David Marcus

Thanks Jarrett for putting numbers behind the difficulties of Dial-A-Ride. I had the same thought as anonymouse...a Dial-A-Ride service supported by smartphone technology. To my knowledge there is no good implementation of this. Perhaps the best execution would be to ask people requesting a ride to walk the few blocks to their nearest arterial. That way the service would be something closer to a dynamically-optimized fixed route system.


Many transit agencies operate separate paratransit services (TriMet being one example), for the mobility impaired, the elderly, etc.

Perhaps these things and a general dial-a-ride service could be united somehow?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Scotty. Yes, that's almost always part of the calculation.


I wouldn't be surprised if there's already an iPhone app or something to connect people looking for ride shares.

Louis Haywood

Seems to me that Dial-A-Ride riders should get a discount for acting as a group at a single pick-up. It is not costing much more to pick up 3 people at a stop than one.

Jarrett, I'd love to hear your take on family fares on transit. When I was in Hamburg, it was common to have group fares on transit, where four people could get a pretty inexpensive ticket to ride the system for a day (maybe a weekend day, maybe not). The point is that for transit to be competitive with automobiles, such fares have to be available, especially in the off-peak.

A car or a taxi has a fixed cost per trip (or distance), and does not charge for the second, third, or fourth passenger. This is why families take road trips, because buying four individual plane tickets is so expensive, it destroys the economy of air travel. It is why many groups of young people would sooner take a taxi than a subway. With transit, a family of four would have to pay up to 16 dollars to go to the zoo or downtown and back on transit.


Addressing the Dial-A-Ride question from the perspective of non-emergency Medicaid transportation, where the trips to clinicians are scheduled in advance and Medicaid pays for them, it's not the easiest thing to get full vans. Many people just miss their appointments.


In Denver, Dial-A-Ride seems to be used largely to funnel people from existing suburbs or semi-rural areas into (And out of!) the light rail system, in order to discourage them from driving all the way into (or out of!) town.

It seems rather effective for that purpose. If you have to go to some suburban location within the dial-a-ride area, you can now schedule a pickup at the train station and a return pickup, rather than driving the whole way (because the suburban destination was previously not accessible from the train station -- the "last mile" problem).

This seems to me to be one of the more practical uses of dial-a-ride.


Most dial-a-ride services (in the US) tend to be much more expensive, on a per-passenger basis, than fixed route service. (I've heard that DAR costs $15+ per passenger, where as a fixed route in a lower-density suburban area is more like $5/passenger) That's why the vast majority of US dial-a-ride service is limited to federally mandated handicapped ("ADA") service.

There are a few general public DAR services here and there, where local governments have seen fit to subsidize them. Airport shuttle vans ("Supershuttle", etc.) are also in the ball park, although they focus on serving a particular destination (airport). They are, of course, unsubsidized, and charge much higher fares than transit.

To the rider, the advantage is that, instead of walking to a bus stop, riding one or more buses (incurring a transfer) and getting off and walking to the destination, the rider can be picked up at home and delivered directly to the destination, as if in a private car or cab. The problem is that in a reasonably productive DAR, the vehicle may be stopping to pick up other riders as well. Too many intervening stops, and much of the advantage of DAR over the fixed route system is destroyed. So it becomes a balancing act: increase productivity or provide a relatively fast ride for the passengers already onboard.

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