– Centre for Transport Studies, University of Cape Town – South Africa


Often considered to be an obstacle to public transport system’s modernisation and/or transformation, paratransit services can also be perceived as a vital component of the dualistic systems of most cities of the Global South. While formal modes and paratransit modes operate in a shared urban territory, their relationships are usually explained as a coexistence of discrete elements in the system. Relationships are, however, far more complex. The two types of services interact with each other, generating hidden and visible interdependencies and trade-offs in daily operations that define most public transport systems in the Global South.

Paratransit modes have continuously found new niches and innovative roles largely relying upon their inherent flexibility and demand responsiveness –two of their more cited advantages–. This paper focuses on these services’ adaptability in times of public transport transformation to respond to newly re-regulated operational contexts. Through a review of international experiences, the objective of the paper is to highlight and to analyse the roles and generated externalities of untransformed modes coexisting with a formal system and the newly reformed paratransit sector, where it exists.

It is argued that while providing necessary public transport options to large urban areas, the nature of the paratransit system also results in significant externalities, mainly in the form of operational inefficiencies and pollution. Dilemmas then arise when attempting to reduce these externalities: the challenge of renewing fleets and reorganising services is closely linked to the challenge of not losing paratransit-like advantages – largely beneficial in the Global South – during the process.