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The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is featuring an innovation by the Utah Transit Authority in a report released Wednesday about possible ways to lower costs for service to the disabled.
It says other agencies should look at UTA's fairly new "FLEX" bus service, which costs about $11.38 per trip compared to the national average of $32.74 for traditional curb-to-curb paratransit service for the disabled.
FLEX generally follows a fixed route, but will deviate up to three-quarters of a mile to pick up a limited number of riders who phone and make an appointment. The routes serve both the general public and the disabled, and anyone can request a deviation.
The new report, "Accessible Transit Services for All," presents 12 case studies of how some transit agencies nationwide are trying to hold down costs for service to the disabled to stretch resources. The report comes on the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which required transit access for the disabled.
The FTA suggests that transit agencies provide a mix of both regular bus and train routes that are fully accessible to the disabled and it said nearly 100 percent of them now are nationally along with some curb-to-curb paratransit service.
UTA provides both, including operating 113 paratransit vehicles in its fleet as well as contracting for paratransit services in Weber, Davis, and Utah counties. Its riders make more than 1,000 paratransit boardings each week.
But UTA also provides FLEX, a sort of middle- ground bus service, in areas on the fringe of where regular routes are offered. FLEX allows the disabled and others in the general public to access regular routes and costs less than paratransit.
The report notes that UTA started using flex routes in 2010 when it reduced the area served by traditional paratransit, and also used it to replace some regular routes that were discontinued as new TRAX extensions were completed.
"To allow some service to be continued in these area, UTA introduced FLEX," the report said. "Five of the 16 FLEX routes were introduced by UTA to replace traditional fixed-route services. The traditional fixed routes were either underperforming, or duplicated the newly introduced light-rail service and were no longer needed."
UTA also introduced two FLEX routes to test markets for transit in areas where no fixed-route service previously existed.
UTA limits deviations from fixed routes to two per run, to help keep buses near their advertised schedule.
If two have already been requested, riders are given the option of scheduling a pickup for an earlier or later run.
The system allows scores of deviations per day on each route to allow the disabled and others to connect to the rest of the UTA system.
FLEX fares, the study said, are $2.35 one-way, with a $1 surcharge per round trip for deviations. A discount base fare of $1.15 is also available for older adults and the disabled. In comparison, the fare for paratransit is $4 one-way.
The report said total ridership in 2012 for 15 FLEX routes operated then was 298,656, and operating costs were $3.4 million. The routes averaged 4.7 trips per revenue hour.