Helping disabled commuters regain independence through data

Alert-A-Ride is a mobile app that alerts paratransit riders in NYC about their ride status in order to regain control over their day while also serving as a prototype for how city governments can safely release data involving personal identifiable information for vulnerable populations.

In a city of over 8 million people, 800,000 New Yorkers are disabled. Because of 100 year-old legacy systems and costly infrastructure upgrades, many disabled people cannot use the same public transportation system that citizens like you and I rely on.

Instead, many disabled commuters use paratransit. Paratransit is door-to-door public transportation for people with disabilities. Across the US, any city that has public transportation must also offer paratransit services. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act mandates it.

In New York City, the paratransit program is called Access-A-Ride, and over 136,820 people use the program. According to data from the MTA, there are an average of 44,590 new applications received monthly to enroll in the service. There is a huge demand and need for paratransit.

Access-A-Ride, a service that was designed to help disabled people live independently, has ultimately taken away riders' independence by poorly communicating ride updates and status. The service is chronically late, and at its worst, abandons riders unintentionally. Access-A-Ride has only one platform for reaching users about ride updates – a call center.

I have created a prototype, Alert-A-Ride, a mobile app that alerts riders  in real-time about their Access-A-Ride status in order to regain control over their day and manage their commutes. The aim of my project is to:

  • Transform the experience of paratransit commuters in NYC by using existing data that is now mostly inaccessible.
  • Create a smarter paratransit system by allowing paratransit riders to share data with Access-A-Ride/MTA.
  • Serves as an open-source prototype for local governments to open-up access to datasets about vulnerable populations in a way that protects personal identifiable information.