The ATU plays a role in an important civil rights issue: ensuring that seniors and persons with disabilities have access to high quality paratransit services. The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, combated discrimination and put requirements into place to help persons with disabilities live and work in an integrated setting. Among other things, the Act required transit authorities to provide ADA paratransit services to persons with disabilities in all areas served by regular fixed-route services. Some transit authorities choose to provide additional paratransit services to all riders.
Often described as curb-to-curb or door-to-door services, paratransit vehicles take passengers directly from their point of origin to their destination. In 2009, paratransit vehicles in the U.S. traveled 1.5 billion miles. Vehicles offering comparable services in Canada traveled an additional 49 million miles. ATU members in this industry help make it possible for many otherwise homebound persons to travel to work, school, medical appointments, and carry out vital day-to-day activities.
The demands of a paratransit job are great. Often, in addition to driving, these members must act as caregivers and escorts for their passengers. They must have extraordinary patience and compassion. Physically, a paratransit operator may need to be strong enough to lift passengers into their seats, or even carry them. They must be able to focus on the road while attending to individuals with mental disabilities.
Despite the demands of the job, operators often experience lower wages, fewer benefits and higher rates of turnover than their regular fixed-route counterparts. Although the provision of paratransit services is required by the ADA, no additional funding is allotted for this mandate. As a consequence, many providers choose to subcontract it out to private companies to keep costs as low as possible. The ATU believes paratransit workers deserve decent wages and benefits for the valuable service they provide.
Collecting fares is one of the risks posed to workers in the paratransit industry. Drivers are required to collect fares out on the street, not in the vehicle, and as fares rise, the risk of assault and robbery increases with it. Drivers who don’t collect the fare outside the vehicle risk disciplinary action.
— Wayne Baker, President and Business Agent of Local 1764, Washington, D.C.