Paratransit Riders Maintain Mobility with HRT 

By : Thomas Becher

Hampton Roads Transit is a lifeline. In addition to buses, light rail and ferry, HRT’s paratransit vans help thousands of riders with disabilities gain mobility and independence. 

From shopping trips and medical appointments to social visits and festival fun, paratransit can mean the difference between seclusion and succeeding. 

“Paratransit allows me and other qualified riders to fully participate in the community,” says Catherine Tyler-Northan, a paratransit rider for 22 years.  

“I can’t do without it,” adds Alan Arnt, a paratransit rider from Norfolk who uses the service to get home from work three days a week. “I know there are a lot of people with disabilities who rely on the service.”  
HRT’s paratransit serves a monthly average of 31,700 paratransit passengers on 42,373 monthly trips through March of the current fiscal year. That’s up 6.3 percent from a year earlier. 

Keith Johnson, HRT’s paratransit service contract administrator, says the growth shows   paratransit fills a crucial gap in transit. 

“Paratransit is that vital link to help people with disabilities enjoy their lives to the fullest,” he says. 

How Paratransit Supports Active Lives 

Janice Taylor is a native New Yorker and global traveler whose disability hasn’t stopped her from getting around. Thanks to HRT’s paratransit service, she goes about her active life.  

“It’s about connectivity with the outside world,” she says. Taylor lists just some of the ways paratransit helps riders thrive: 

  • Medical: Routine medical appointments, specialists, treatments, lab work and emergency prescriptions.  
  • Shopping: A self-described shopaholic, Taylor says paratransit is a crucial link to specialty stores, department stores, medicinal shops with holistic options and neighborhood shops in addition to big-box staples. 
  • Groceries and dining: From day-to-day groceries to local farmer’s markets, multiculural restaurants, and vegetarian options, Taylor relies on paratransit to eat healthy. 
  • Arts and culture: A musician, Taylor attends concerts and visits museums, theaters, exhibits, multicultural events, historical sites and festivals throughout Hampton Roads. 
  • Socialization: Paratransit is crucial to maintaining relationships. She cites lunch dates with friends as an example to avoid isolation and depression. 
  • Volunteering: An ardent volunteer, she also relies on paratransit to attend non-profit board meetings and conferences. 
  • Houses of worship: Paratransit allows riders to engage with and fellowship in their houses of worship.
  • Employment: “If you have a job, paratransit helps you maintain employment and the salary you need,” Taylor explains. “There’s a myth that the disabled community doesn’t work. Many of us want to keep and sustain our living like anyone else.” 
  • Meetings and travel: She relies on paratransit to attend business and other meetings  for nonprofits, advisory boards/committees, professional organizations and conferences and conventions.

Taylor has used paratransit since 2016 and says it’s a relief knowing that paratransit riders have options in their complicated lives.  

“Paratransit gives you an equal playing field with people who drive their own cars or use other HRT transit,” she says. “It’s an equitable and fair system that gives us access to the outside world.”  

She continues: “A good paratransit service is based on a strong, robust and vibrant HRT fixed route. Whatever happens in the HRT structure, framework, funding and daily operations will trickle down to have serious repercussions in the paratransit community. We also use the ferries and light rails which have to be maintained for ADA standards for the disabled community to fully access and utilize their services. Good repair, maintenance upkeep requires funding and/or an infusion of grants.”

Where Hampton Roads Transit Paratransit Serves 

HRT’s paratransit serves locations within three-quarters of a mile of existing fixed-route services using lift-equipped vehicles in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News and Portsmouth. Riders must apply to qualify for paratransit transportation. Once approved, riders are eligible for free fares on HRT buses, light rail and ferry. 

Rides cost $3.50 one way and reservations can be made from one to seven days in advance of the requested ride. Paratransit pickups are based on a 30-minute window.  

The service is supported by HRT’s 24-member Paratransit Advisory Committee, which serves as a conduit between the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (HRT’s governing board), persons with disabilities who use or may use HRT’s services, and service providers to the disabled community. 

HRT offers paratransit passengers a free travel training program that teaches riders how to use paratransit and HRT’s fixed, ADA-accessible routes on buses, the light rail and ferry. Training topics include how to plan a trip, finding the nearest stop, and paying fares.  

Among the service’s recent enhancements is a fleet of 20 new, ADA-accessible Chrysler Voyager minivans, modified to comfortably fit up to one wheelchair and three ambulatory riders at a time. Paratransit’s total fleet numbers 97 accessible vehicles, including StarCraft/Ford Cutaways, Ford Transits and Chrysler Pacificas in addition to the Voyagers. 

Riders shudder to think what their lives would be like without paratransit. 

“It would be very restrictive,” says Tyler-Northan. “Not having paratransit eliminates the choice between need and wanting to go to certain places.” 

“Devastating,” Taylor adds. “It would mean a loss of personal freedom and independence and less access than the public has. … It also means sanity. Depression is real when uncertainty looms daily.”  

Tyrell Mullen of Hampton, a member of the Paratransit Advisory Committee, has relied on the service since 2007. 

“I use it to go to work, church, concerts, sporting events, family gatherings,” he says. “Before, I would have to depend on my parents all the time to get where I needed to go, and it would make me feel like a burden.  

“Paratransit means independence for those who use it.” 

To learn more about paratransit at Hampton Roads Transit, visit To apply for or recertify paratransit services, call (877) ADA-RIDE (1-877-232-7433) and request an application by mail or apply online at 

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