ADA Paratransit Services:

Demand Has Increased, but Little is Known about Compliance

GAO-13-17: Published: Nov 15, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Little is known about the extent of transit agencies' compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit service requirements. FTA does receive some assurance that agencies are complying with federal statutes and regulations, including ADA paratransit requirements, because transit agencies that receive FTA funding are required to self-certify and assure that they are complying with the Department of Transportation's ADA regulations. Additionally, FTA conducts specialized ADA paratransit compliance reviews that examine multiple aspects of an agency's paratransit services; however, few transit agencies are selected for review each year. FTA generally relies on complaints, media reports, experience with an agency, and other information to select agencies for review, but does not have documented criteria for selecting agencies. This informal selection process does not align with federal guidance on internal controls related to communication, documentation, and monitoring. Lastly, according to FTA officials, all finalized ADA paratransit compliance review reports are to be available on FTA's website, but GAO identified nine final review reports--conducted from 2004 to 2010--that have not been posted to FTA's website.

Based on GAO's survey, the demand for ADA paratransit trips increased, since 2007 for some transit agencies, and costs for providing the trips remain high. The average number of annual ADA paratransit trips provided by a transit agency increased 7 percent from 2007 to 2010; from 172,481 trips in 2007 to 184,856 trips in 2010. Increases in demand for ADA paratransit services were driven by the 10 largest transit agencies, measured according to the population size of their service areas. Also, ADA paratransit trips are much more costly to provide than fixed-route trips. Similarly, the average cost of providing an ADA paratransit trip in 2010 was $29.30, an estimated three and a half times more expensive than the average cost of $8.15 to provide a fixed-route trip. The average cost of providing an ADA paratransit trip increased 10 percent from 2007 to 2010. GAO's analysis of ADA paratransit data available in FTA's National Transit Database (NTD) found that, according to GAO standards for data reliability, the data are not sufficiently reliable for the purpose of assessing changes in ADA paratransit demand and costs. For example, GAO found discrepancies, such as incomplete data, that may understate or overstate the number of ADA trips and amount of ADA expenses. According to FTA officials, some transit agencies fail to report these data, while others misunderstand the data fields and make reporting errors as a result.

Transit agencies are taking actions such as coordinating with other transportation providers, offering travel training, and improving accessibility to address changes in ADA paratransit demand and costs. According to GAO's survey, about 59 percent of transit agencies are coordinating with health and human services providers to improve ADA paratransit services or address the costs of providing such services. About 44 percent of transit agencies are coordinating with other local transportation providers. Additionally, about 55 percent are using travel training to help paratransit riders' transition to fixed-route services. Furthermore, GAO's survey results showed that over 62 percent of transit agencies have made accessibility improvements to their fixed-route systems since 2007.

Why GAO Did This Study

The ADA, a civil rights law enacted in 1990, provided that it shall be considered discrimination for a public entity that operates a fixed-route transit system to fail to offer paratransit service to disabled individuals that is comparable to services provided to those without disabilities. FTA is responsible for overseeing compliance with ADA requirements for paratransit services. As requested, GAO examined: (1) the extent of compliance with ADA paratransit requirements, (2) changes in ADA paratransit demand and costs since 2007, and (3) actions transit agencies are taking to help address changes in the demand for and costs of ADA paratransit service. GAO analyzed FTA's ADA compliance reports; conducted a generalizable web-based survey of 145 transit agencies; interviewed federal officials; and interviewed officials from 20 transit agencies, chosen based on a variety of characteristics, including geographic diversity.

What GAO Recommends

The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FTA Administrator to (1) document and make publicly available a formal approach for selecting transit agencies for ADA paratransit compliance reviews, (2) post the backlog of ADA's compliance-review final reports and establish a process for the timely posting of future reports, and (3) provide guidance to transit agencies on how to accurately complete existing ADA paratransit data fields in the NTD.

For more information, contact David J. Wise at (202) 512-2834 or wised@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA is responsible for overseeing compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for paratransit services by conducting specialized ADA paratransit compliance reviews. These reviews include an examination of the selected transit agency's policies and standards for providing ADA complementary paratransit services. In 2012, GAO reported that little is known about the extent of transit agencies' compliance with ADA paratransit service requirements. FTA does receive some assurance that agencies are complying with federal statutes and regulations, including ADA paratransit requirements, because transit agencies that receive FTA funding are required to self-certify and assure that they are complying with the Department of Transportation's ADA regulations. FTA conducts specialized ADA paratransit compliance reviews that are in-depth examinations of multiple aspects of an agency's paratransit services; however, few transit agencies are selected for review each year. FTA generally relies on complaints, media reports, experience with an agency, and other information to select agencies for review, but does not have documented criteria for selecting agencies. This informal selection process does not align with federal guidance on internal controls related to communication, documentation, and monitoring as well as grantee-oversight best practices. Lastly, according to FTA officials, all finalized ADA paratransit compliance review reports are to be available on FTA's website. However, no additional final ADA compliance review reports have been posted to FTA's website since April 2011, resulting in a lag in transit agencies' and others' access to reports and findings. Consequently, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Transportation direct the FTA Administrator to document and make publicly available a formal selection approach for selecting transit agencies for review. In November 2015, FTA issued ADA Circular C 4710.1, which constitutes official guidance to FTA grantees (i.e., transit agencies) on ADA requirements. In the Circular, section "12.5.1 Compliance Review Section Criteria," lists the five factors that contribute to FTA's selection of grantees for onsite compliance reviews, which addresses GAO's recommendation. These factors include: 1) risk factors identified by the FTA annual Grantee Oversight Assessment; 2) FTA complaints (triggered either by the volume of complaints or the scope of a specific complaint, requiring an in-person investigation); 3) ADA findings or recommendations on prior Triennial, State Management, or other reviews that grantees have not sufficiently resolved or implemented, or repeat findings in any FTA review concerning ADA; 4) lawsuits, complaints, or investigations conducted by organizations other than FTA alleging a grantee's noncompliance; and 5) alleged noncompliance brought to FTA's attention by other entities. To communicate the criteria to its grantees, among other things, FTA posted the Circular on its public website and issued a press release and fact sheet. With these criteria, FTA can help ensure an effective oversight process.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that FTA's ADA paratransit compliance reviews adhere to GAO recommended internal controls and grantee oversight best practices, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FTA Administrator to document and make publicly available a formal selection approach for selecting transit agencies for review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA is responsible for overseeing compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for paratransit services by conducting specialized ADA paratransit compliance reviews that examine multiple aspects of an agency's paratransit services. These reviews include an examination of the selected transit agency's policies and standards for providing ADA complementary paratransit services. In 2012, GAO reported that according to FTA officials, all final ADA compliance review reports should be publicly available on FTA's website. However, GAO identified that no additional final ADA compliance review reports had been posted to FTA's website since April 2011. Specifically, nine final compliance review reports had not been posted to FTA's website. FTA officials said the backlog of reports needing to be posted online was because of technical issues. Because these reports had not been posted to FTA's website, the only way to access their content was through a Freedom of Information Act request, which requires time and financial resources. Transit agencies and industry groups told GAO that they look to these compliance reviews as a form of guidance on FTA's interpretation of ADA requirements. Particularly, because FTA conducts a limited number of ADA paratransit compliance reviews, both transit agencies and FTA would benefit from posting final compliance reports in a timely manner. Therefore, GAO recommended that the FTA Administrator post the backlog of ADA compliance review final reports on its website and establish processes for the timely posting of future compliance review reports. In 2016, GAO confirmed that FTA established a process to post compliance review reports on the agency's website. Beginning in March 2014, FTA initiated a process that includes when the Final Report is issued to the grantee, it is simultaneously transmitted to the website coordinator for the Office of Civil Rights for posting and the website coordinator posts the report within 5 days of receipt. By having these reports readily available on its website, FTA can better oversee transit agencies and assist transit agencies in their compliance efforts.

    Recommendation: To help transit agencies and stakeholders have access to up-to-date ADA paratransit compliance reviews and compliance findings, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FTA Administrator to post the backlog of ADA compliance review final reports on FTA's website and establish processes for the timely posting of future compliance review reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Federal Register final notice on April 7, 2015, shows that FTA is eliminating the collection of certain ADA paratransit data (trips and expenses) from the NTD. This clarification instructs respondents on how to exclude data for demand-responsive services that are not ADA paratransit. We are reviewing the documentation and will make a decision regarding closing this recommendation as implemented at the conclusion of our review.

    Recommendation: To improve NTD data collection for ADA paratransit,the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FTA Administrator to provide guidance to transit agencies on how to accurately complete existing ADA paratransit fields.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Transit Administration

 

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