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46% hike in paratransit clients prompts MARTA to review eligibility compliance

By David Pendered

MARTA is taking steps to reduce the number of clients who receive free door-to-door service in an effort to curb the program’s costs as the number of eligible riders has risen 46% in a five-year period.

MARTA’s paratransit program is serving a ridership that has increased 46% in five years. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The disability community has helped establish a more accurate screening process to determine eligibility for existing customers and new applicants, MARTA states.

The new rules comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, according to MARTA. The ADA requires public transit providers to deliver free origin-to-destination paraservice for medically disabled individuals. MARTA determines eligibility on a person’s ability to get on and off buses and trains without assistance, as opposed to relying on a medical model to determine eligibility.

MARTA has recorded a 46% increase in the number of clients approved to receive free MARTA Mobility service. The growth was recorded between 2014 and 2019.

The number of enrolled clients grew from 9,323 clients to 13,623 clients during that that five-year time frame.

Annual ridership on paratransit was 669,950 in FY 2020, which ended June 30.

This information is contained in a request for proposals MARTA issued Nov. 23. MARTA is seeking to hire a contractor to take over the assessment of existing clients and future applicants. Proposals are due by Jan. 21, 2021. An anticipated award date does not appear to be cited.

MARTA outsourced its paratransit service following a management audit conducted in 2012 at MARTA’s behest by KPMG. The task of assessing applicants for the paratransit service was outsourced in 2016, according to the RFP.

MARTA processed the following eligibility categories from FY 2017 to FY 2019. Credit: MARTA

The 2012 audit determined that MARTA’s biggest opportunities to cut costs involved privatizing its cleaning and paratransit services. In paratransit, the audit determined that MARTA could save between $15.4 million and $43 million over a five-year period by outsourcing paratransit, according to the audit.

Those potential savings are a function of the number of riders served.

MARTA’s RFP describes the paratransit service that is offered and the process by which the new screening measures were designed:

  • “MARTA’s paratransit services are available for those persons whose disability prevents them from using the accessible public transportation system. The regulation explicitly states that paratransit service is intended as alternative public transit program, rather than for those for whom the accessible public transportation system is inconvenient or difficult to use.
  • “Due to the increasing constraints placed on the system as a result of increased demand, MARTA has worked with representatives of the disability community (the MARTA Accessibility Committee – MAC) to establish a more accurate screening process that will ensure that only those who are functionally unable to use the MARTA fixed-route service, some or all of the time, will be found eligible.
  • “It is anticipated that, as a result of this process, there will be a portion of individuals who currently ride the service who will be found either ineligible or conditionally eligible.”

The RFP notes that MARTA bases eligibility for paratransit on a functional, not medical, evaluation of a person’s ability to get on and off a bus or train:

  • Determination for eligibility certification is not based on a specific diagnosis or disability. An individual will be certified as eligible if there is any part of MARTA’s conventional transit system that cannot be used or navigated by the that individual because of a functional disability.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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