MTA Access-A-Ride paratransit service reaches highest number since before pandemic

Feb. 10, 2023
The agency has reached 100 percent of pre-pandemic totals on several days, and weekday ridership regularly hovers between 85 percent and 99 percent.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) spotlighted the excellent performance of its Access-A-Ride (AAR) paratransit service in recent months, which is reflected in the highest levels of customer satisfaction measured since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. On-time performance from primary carriers, also referred to as the “blue and white vans,” increased from 90 percent in September 2021 to 98 percent in January 2023 while driver no-shows fell from a high of 6.6 to just 0.6 per 1,000 scheduled trips over the same period. On broker services, on-time performance increased from a low of 84 percent in November 2021 to 95 percent in January 2023 on rides provided in taxis and for-hire vehicles, and no-shows fell during the same period.

Customers are feeling the upward trend in on-time performance as well. New data from the January Pulse Survey, the authority’s online survey of paratransit customers, found overall paratransit customer satisfaction for AAR reached 76 percent in January 2023 – the highest number ever recorded for paratransit service in that questionnaire. Because of the improved on-time paratransit performance, the MTA is in the process of tightening how to measure on-time performance, lowering the threshold from a 30-minute window to a 20-minute window.

Additionally, the MTA continues to invest in leveraging technology to make the booking and travel experience even better for AAR customers. The authority rolled out new features for AAR customers to book and track trips seamlessly on the MYmta website and app, responding directly to customer feedback requesting a better online and app-based experience.

“Access-A-Ride caters to the most vulnerable part of our transportation population, and it's an amazing sign of progress that they are the ones who are returning to travel and getting around at the highest level,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “These customers are getting unprecedented quality service, and I want to thank the paratransit team for the efforts that resulted in record on-time performance and customer satisfaction.”

“Reimagining our Access-A-Ride service is one of my key goals as the MTA’s first chief accessibility officer, and as a paratransit customer myself, I’m honored to be working side-by-side with Chris and his team to roll out this new and improved version of the MY AAR experience,” said MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo. “We know what our customers want and need – a seamless booking experience and on-time, reliable trips – and we’re using every tool in the toolbox to get there.”

“Paratransit is the lifeblood for many of our fellow New Yorkers, including myself, enabling all of us to access all of the great opportunities that the city has to offer,” said MTA Vice President of Paratransit Chris Pangilinan. “The dedicated team at AAR has made monumental improvements in the past three years, but we acknowledge there is more work to be done, and we are up for the challenge.”

 Record paratransit customer satisfaction

The 76% customer satisfaction number reflects not just an increase in service delivery metrics, but overall improvements to the customer experience in recent months.

Customers calling in to reserve their trips saw improved service over the phone, with the average call now answered three times faster than during the same period a year ago.

Ridership on paratransit continues to recover from the height of the pandemic, especially on weekdays. The agency has reached 100% of pre-pandemic totals on several days, and weekday ridership regularly hovers between 85 percent and 99 percent

New and improved mobile booking features

The improvements to the MY AAR features within the MYmta app provide a more user-friendly, intuitive experience, making the app more accessible to all 170,000 AAR customers. Users now have the ability to request a new login link and change their own password, giving riders more ability to control their own experience with the app instead of relying on the MTA for individual support.

The updates also make it easier to find paratransit information and track trips, including banner alerts and notifications about canceled trips. The app is now more screen reader friendly, increasing usability for the many AAR customers who are blind or have low vision. These enhancements respond specifically to feedback from customers using the app and are designed to allow the MTA to greatly scale up usage across the AAR customer base.

Booking trips through the app is now faster and more comparable to other rideshare apps, allowing more riders to use the app for booking instead of calling the Paratransit Call Center to book a trip. Increasing app usage far beyond the current five percent will give MTA customers a much better experience and decrease operational costs.

“I had a fall in my home in April and came out of my rehab in June,” said AAR customer Dr. Marcella Maxwell. “Access-A-Ride has been one of the most important components of my recovery. I am 95 years old, I'm able to go out every day, I'm able to participate in my physical therapy. I am thrilled because Access-A-Ride comes on time and because the employees and the staff that are driving the cars are polite, they are courteous, and they are helpful.”

“I’m 81 years old and have been traveling on Access-A-Ride since 2005,” AAR customer Paul Brown said. “I’m legally blind, and the service has been great. I travel three to four days a week, and I’m very pleased with the service from the blue and white vehicles. I don’t think I’d be going anywhere without Access-A-Ride.”

“We have seen the app, we know how it makes the process easier for seniors and people with disabilities,” said AAR customer and Advocate Debra Grief and ACTA Member Christopher Grief. “It will ensure people will know when their vehicles are on their way, they don't need to run outside in the cold, rain or darkness. It will make it feel much safer to know when your vehicle is downstairs. Debra is an Access-A-Ride customer who uses the app. It makes it easy for her to know when to set up her vehicle's time and location. It gives her enough time to get to her destination on-time or even early.”