January 20, 2022
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2002-2003 Report:

Redi-Wheels Paratransit Service

Summary | Background | Findings | Conclusions | Recommendations| Responses


The Grand Jury has concluded that Redi-Wheels has made improvements in its service in both quality of service and number of people served. However, past reductions in SamTrans fixed route service, SamTrans budget problems, an increase in San Mateo, County’s aging population and an improved service level have recently placed the current Redi-Wheels service level at risk.

SamTrans should develop and implement a plan in cooperation with the Redi-Wheels contractor, M.V. Transportation, and Aging and Adult Services to solve the recent service problems and to insure that the service is economically sustainable.

Issue: Does Redi-Wheels, San Mateo County Transit District’s paratransit service, adequately serve those who cannot use regular bus service, and is the present level of service sustainable?


In 1977, the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) launched a transit service for mobility-impaired residents. The program, Redi-Wheels, offers curb-to-curb service for people with disabilities who cannot independently ride fixed route SamTrans bus service. The Redi-Wheels program meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that mandates that all public transit operators provide paratransit service to persons with disabilities comparable to the level of fixed route service offered.

Redi-Wheels defines “No-shows” as the failure of the client to be at the pickup point at the designated time.


The Redi-Wheels program is funded under the SamTrans budget. SamTrans 2002-2003 fiscal year budget has projected a $6.5 million revenue shortfall, and very limited growth in Redi-Wheels funding. Given the current economic climate, resources are unlikely to increase above current estimates.

Redi-Wheels ridership has increased by over 120% since 1992. From November 2001 to November 2002 the average daily ridership grew 17.1% from 813 to 998 rides per day. Over 8,000 County residents make use of the service and this number is expected to grow significantly as the population of the County ages.

The current Redi-Wheels operating cost per passenger is $27.19 per one-way ride.

The Redi-Wheels program exceeds ADA requirements in the following areas:

  • ADA requires that paratransit service maintain hours of service equal to those of fixed route transit. Some SamTrans fixed route services end as early as 4:30 p.m. Redi-Wheels offers service seven days per week between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and midnight.

  • The ADA requires service only within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed route service. Paratransit services are offered to all qualified county residents, regardless of their proximity to fixed transit routes.

  • The Redi-Wheels fares are below the maximum level allowed by the ADA. The standard Redi-Wheels fare is $2.00 per one-way ride. Low-income riders pay $1.00 per one-way ride.
In order to meet the usage demands, the number of Redi-Wheels drivers increased from 60 in 2000 to 113 in 2002. Drivers report often working 10-hour days without regularly scheduled breaks, restroom stops, and lunches. Restroom stops are often difficult for the drivers to schedule due to their work load.

Despite the increase in drivers, the ability for Redi-Wheels to maintain service levels has declined:
  • On-time pick-ups have fallen below the 90% standard since they peaked in 2002

  • The dispatch system is inadequate and drivers are not able to immediately notify clients when they are delayed

  • The client “no-show” rate has increased 52.4% between November 2001 and November 2002
The Redi-Wheels system is particularly problematic for clients relying on the system for transportation to and from medical appointments. Redi-Wheels stipulates that clients must schedule their rides at least twenty-four hours in advance, must select a time within a one-hour window of their preferred time for pick-up, and must be prepared to take their ride within a window of 20 minutes before or after the scheduled ride time. As a result, clients are often late or early for medical appointments. This can be problematic for both the patient and healthcare provider.

In July 2002, Health Rides, a medical rides service, sponsored by Health Plan of San Mateo was discontinued, leaving no alternative ride service for clients going to medical appointments. Currently, Redi-Wheels educates clients about incorporating the allowable time windows for pick-up and delivery into their schedule, but clients often don’t inform their medical providers of their transportation situation.

Over the past several years, SamTrans has operated the Redi-Wheels program very well. Redi-Wheels is responsive to client needs and service quality issues brought to its attention, and maintains a zero denial rate of clients’ ride requests. However, SamTrans management and Redi-Wheels program administrators anticipate that changes in the program will be necessary due to an excess in demand over available resources.

SamTrans is exploring a number of options for change. To control the growth in client demand, Redi-Wheels is planning to improve their certification process including recertifying current riders to determine if individuals are eligible for or have been incorrectly certified to ride Redi-Wheels. During this process the people who do not qualify for Redi-Wheels will be given travel training to aid them in using fixed route transit services.

Travel training is offered on a limited basis to teach people with disabilities to ride SamTrans buses and Caltrain, when possible. Travel training is provided by SamTrans internal staff and through community-based organizations: Peninsula Center for the Blind, RCH, and Community Gatepath.

Redi-Wheels is also experimenting with contracting with a taxi service for clients who are physically able to use it. A pilot program in the northern area of the County is currently being evaluated. Taxi trips less than eight miles are less expensive per trip than the Redi-Wheels per passenger costs. Clients complain that taxi drivers are unfamiliar with their area, late for pick-ups, and expect to be tipped. The taxis’ on-time rate is reported to be 68%.


While Redi-Wheels Service has improved and expanded in the last several years, the program is not fully meeting vital community needs and will be unable to do so in the future unless operational changes are made.

Resources are not sufficient to deal with the predicted increased demand. SamTrans needs to continue their efforts to control cost and demand while reducing the service as little as possible.

The Redi-Wheels Program is not a satisfactory solution for County residents who need transportation service to carry out vital tasks such as transportation to and from medical appointments.


  1. SamTrans should do everything within its means to maintain Redi-Wheels geographic service area.

  2. SamTrans should reduce program costs by:

    • Reducing Redi-Wheels hours of operation to 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. where no conflict with the ADA exists

    • Increasing standard fees to the ADA maximum allowable amount

    • Expanding the use of taxis if current problems with on-time service, client satisfaction, and accurate background check on drivers can be resolved

  3. SamTrans should attempt to decrease demand on the Redi-Wheels Service by:

    • Improving the client certification and recertification process

    • Expanding the Travel Training program

  4. SamTrans should improve Redi-Wheels operational service by:

    • Modifying the dispatch system to ensure optimal communication between dispatch, clients and drivers

    • Providing on time arrivals to reduce the rate of client no shows

    • Creating schedules that allow drivers to receive their mandated breaks consistent with California State Labor Law requirements

  5. The Board of Supervisors should address the transportation needs of the indigent elderly and disabled by:

    • Developing and implementing a process to allow the community to address the issue and pursue a community-wide solution. This process should include holding public hearings to solicit input from experts and community members.

    • Maintaining ongoing dialogue with SamTrans management to ensure that the demand for service is being met.

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