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How to Customize Your Paratransit and Microtransit Services

Customize your service to meet specific rider needs and demands, like setting up segmented rider groups, booking options, booking windows, fare rules, and payment methods.

Niklas Mey

No community and their transportation needs are the same, and there are many criteria that make up successful on-demand paratransit or microtransit services.

Once you’ve established your service zone, it’s time to further customize your service to meet specific rider needs and demands, like setting up segmented rider groups, booking options, booking windows, fare rules, and payment methods.

In this blog post, we’ll cover the core customizations to keep in mind when designing your paratransit and microtransit services.

1. Segment rider groups based on needs

Mobility is not a one-size-fits-all service. After all, different people require different levels of service based on desires, values, and needs. Establishing “rider groups” allows agencies to segment passengers at a granular level and to tailor travel parameters, such as service areas and hours, fleets, maximum passenger load, or accessibility configurations, to specific riders’ needs.

In addition, segmenting rider groups based on needs allows agencies to restrict access to services to only those who are eligible for it. For instance, you may wish to provide a specific paratransit service for riders who meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) eligibility requirements. Or you might launch a microtransit service specifically for people living in a suburb that experiences first mile/last challenges. At the end of the day, from conditional ADA paratransit to off-peak microtransit riders, there’s no limit to how customized your rider groups can be.

Spare Tip: To improve the experience of paratransit riders, consider utilizing a tool that digitizes, streamlines, and automates the management of paratransit eligibility. By digitizing the application and approval process, transit agencies can better manage their paratransit operations and reduce administrative costs.

2. Offer flexible booking options

These days, transit agencies are able to offer a variety of flexible on-demand booking options: scheduling rides through an app, a web-based interface, or by calling into an Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) system. In addition, transit agencies can customize which booking options they want to make available to specific rider groups. All of these options improve the rider experience and reduce agency costs by streamlining admin workload - for example, by decreasing the time a reservationist has to spend on the phone processing bookings.

On-demand technology that offers an open API platform can even further streamline the whole process by allowing agencies to integrate web-booking or other existing systems into one central management tool.

Spare Tip: Knowing your rider and anticipating their needs is key to defining what booking options you should offer. While app bookings are great for the transit agency because they take the least effort, many riders require the ability to call in or book through the web based on preferences, needs, and tech-savviness.

3. Customize booking windows

Providing various booking options, such as on-demand, same day, scheduled, and recurring, ensures the needs of various riders, with both long-term and immediate needs, are met. For instance, a paratransit rider can book a week in advance for a doctor’s appointment and can also request a same-day trip to meet a friend.

Remember, there is a difference between when a trip is requested and when the trip is actually matched to a driver/vehicle. To this end, on-demand technology can provide delayed trip matching (otherwise known as “batching”), allowing agencies to optimize how they schedule driver duties/shifts and assign trips. The benefit of trip matching for high-priority paratransit riders, lower-priority-level riders, as well as on-demand riders is that it allows the system to evaluate the most requests possible at any given time and increase system efficiencies without decreasing the service level for riders.

Delayed matching is especially effective at increasing operational efficiency and decreasing costs when used with commingled services because it provides the largest pool of vehicles available for pairing with the trip requests, further ensuring an optimized vehicle-rider match.

Spare Tip: Use delayed matching windows to prioritize specific rider groups while providing scheduled and on-demand service using a shared fleet. For instance, provide a rider group that gets matched 48 hours prior to the requested pickup time first access to the available seats before a rider group that gets matched 24 hours prior. Give both groups seat access before rider groups that can only book on-demand. This ensures that those in need of scheduled paratransit get served first and that only excess capacity is available for on-demand riders - while operating as efficiently as possible.

4. Establish fare rules

There are two main fare structures that various pricing strategies fall into: flat fare, where rides are charged a fixed price for a service, and variable fare, where the cost of service varies based on trip details.

Free-of-charge trips and transit passes are both examples of flat fares that don’t change based on the variables of the trip. Whereas rider group, time or date, or zone-specific pricing are variable fares determined by factors such as day and time, zone and area, rider type/groups, and service configurations.

Tools that enable fast fare adjustments allow service providers to stay nimble when faced with the unexpected - for example, with pandemic-response fares. To help streamline this process, Spare introduced Fare Rules, an innovative tool that allows agencies to create and manage a unique fare structure that can change when you need it to.

Spare Tip: Prioritize the ability to quickly and efficiently update fares when building your on-demand transit service. This is a key component in establishing rider trust and loyalty!

5. Customize payment methods

While riders generally have the option to make payments using credit cards or cash, we are seeing widespread adoption of contactless payments, such as reloadable transit cards and passes.

We believe this is a positive change! Transit agencies should encourage app booking and cashless payments. Not only do they offer quicker and more reliable transactions, contactless payments can also help reduce community transmission and decrease the exposure to theft that drivers face when carrying large amounts of cash. Offering contactless options promotes a better customer experience, especially for riders who are short on cash or tend to go cashless.

In addition, agencies that encourage riders to choose the cash-free route, through app-bookings or IVR call-ins, realize significant cost-saving opportunities. This includes scaling back bus terminals at major transportation hubs, removing the need for expensive fareboxes to be installed in vehicles, and eliminating the cash-handling process (such as collecting, counting, documenting, and depositing cash).

With this in mind, it’s also important to accommodate “unbanked” riders that don’t have access to bank accounts or credit cards. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit has addressed this challenge  by providing the following payment methods:

  • Credit/debit card payments with their GoPass app
  • Broad access to their Tap transit card at local stores
  • The ability to reload Tap cards with cash
  • The ability to reload Tap cards over the phone
  • Paper tickets

It really requires that there be an option to go somewhere with cash and exchange it for something you can use to pay for rides.

Spare Tip: Encourage riders to use contactless payment methods by educating riders of the various benefits! Also ensure “bankless” riders are not excluded by giving them the option to pay for rides with a cash-friendly method.

The ability to independently customize on-demand paratransit and microtransit services allows transit agencies to really fine-tune and tailor services to the specific communities they serve. If you want to learn more about customizations or how Spare can help your on-demand transit service, drop us a line at