RTA makes enhancements to ADA Paratransit Certification and fare programs
August 22, 2023
The RTA’s Mobility Services department has made a variety of recent enhancements to two programs that improve access to transportation for older adults and people with disabilities: the ADA Paratransit Certification program and Reduced Fare and Ride Free programs.
These improvements were guided by a few important goals. As outlined in our strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, we have a commitment to change in order to hear and respond to the needs of our customers, and at the same time, create operational efficiencies resulting in lower costs in program operations.
ADA Paratransit is an advanced registration, origin-to-destination, shared ride transportation service for individuals who, because of their disability or health condition, are unable to use fixed-route transit service for some or all of their trips. Pace operates this service, while customer eligibility is determined by the RTA. Eligibility is based on an individual’s functional ability to use transit. There are currently 56,000 eligible customers in the RTA region, and the agency receives 18,000 applications per year. The RTA determines eligibility using an interview and functional assessment model, which is standard practice within the transit industry. Under the previous model, after initial certification, Paratransit riders had to get reassessed in-person every four years.
Enhancements to this program came based on customer feedback. Paratransit riders said they didn’t feel they should have to come for an in-person appointment to be reassessed every four years if their condition didn’t change. This feedback, as well as rising costs to operate the program and transport customers, led the RTA to pilot a new model.
Here’s how the old model worked: Customers would call the RTA and request an ADA Paratransit application. The RTA would mail a 13-page application to the customer. The customer would then call to schedule an in-person interview and assessment, to which they would bring their application. The RTA would make an eligibility decision within 21 days and notify the customer by mail. This process was the same for new applicants and for applicants seeking a continuation of eligibility every four years.
The pilot streamlined the process: There was no paper application, but instead those application questions were integrated into an in-person interview. The RTA would mail out a one-page educational self-screening tool and would only require new applicants to come into the office for an in-person interview and assessment. Recertifying customers were only scheduled for a 30-minute phone interview, where they were asked questions from the former paper application. The RTA would compare that information to the baseline data from the customer’s initial assessment, and continued eligibility was determined.
The RTA conducted this pilot for four months and 5,680 applicants. During that time, the agency saved $255,647.
Additionally, the average wait time for a certification appointment went from 28 days to 10 days for in-person and 8 for phone. The average time from an applicant’s initial phone call to the date of a certification decision decreased by 26 days. And outcomes of certification decisions were consistent from the old model to the new approach, with no spikes in eligibility.
This new approach received positive customer feedback, resolves issues with lost mail, leads to significant cost savings, and is faster but still accurate. Once the pilot wrapped up, the RTA decided to make it the new model of operation, demonstrating the agency’s commitment to change.
The RTA’s Reduced Fare program is a federally mandated program providing approximately half-priced fare on public transportation for people with disabilities and adults 65 and older. The Ride Free program is a State of Illinois-mandated, means-tested program providing free public transportation for people with disabilities and adults 65 and older who qualify for the Illinois Department on Aging’s Benefit Access Program. The RTA operates the eligibility process for both fare programs, and there are currently 263,000 eligible customers in total for both. The agency is currently exploring expanding this program to include riders with low incomes.
Customers can apply by mail using a paper application, in-person at one of 62 customer service locations across the region, or through the agency’s new online portal. Customers can apply for a Reduced Fare or Ride Free Permit, replace a lost, stolen, or damaged permit, or renew an expiring permit. Since its launch in January 2022, there has been steady growth in online applications with more than 55,000 applications completed through the online portal.
Benefits of Fare Programs Online include a reduction in paper printing, fulfillment, and mailing costs by $156,000 since the program’s launch; preventing applications getting lost in the mail; allowing customers to apply whenever and wherever they wish; and a significantly shorter processing time as an employee does not need to perform data entry from a paper application.
And if a customer is unable to use the portal for whatever reason, the RTA still has the paper application available on our website and in print, and customers can get in-person assistance filling out an application at one of our many customer service sites.
Through these program enhancements, the RTA is demonstrating our effort to listen to and better engage customers, simplify program access, save the region money, and change to meet both customer and the regional system’s needs.
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