Paratransit Survey: Customer Service a Growing Concern

Posted on August 17, 2012 by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor

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For its ninth annual paratransit survey, capturing a snapshot of the industry, METRO received responses from 88 paratransit providers from 36 states across the U.S. and one system from Canada. Respondents answered 22 questions about their fleets, ridership, concerns and innovations.

Fleet numbers dip
There are a total of 3,851 vehicles represented in this year’s survey results, with the smallest fleet comprised of two vehicles, and the largest fleet coming in at 324 vehicles. The average fleet size is 51 vehicles, down significantly from last year, and the median is 31.

Twenty-six percent of respondents reported having mid- to full-sized vehicles (more than 25 feet in length) in their fleets. Small vehicles made up half of fleets, a sizable decrease from the 69% reported in last year’s survey. A breakdown of bus sizes for all fleets can be found in Figure 1 (see page 18). Vans accounted for 17% of all fleets, which is about the same as the total reported in our 2011 survey, and taxis comprised 6%, continuing a possible downward trend, reflected by the 7% total in 2011 and 9% in 2009.  

2013 purchases
Slightly more than half of operators surveyed plan to buy new vehicles next year, up a bit from last year’s 48%. The total number of vehicles on order is 514. Nearly one-third of respondents do not plan to purchase vehicles in 2013 (Figure 2), and no carriers reported plans to procure more than 100 vehicles in the upcoming fiscal year, signifying a small increase from last year’s 44%, without plans to buy more vehicles.

Ridership still growing
Sixty-three percent of operators cited an increase in their 2011 ridership numbers, averaging 8%, while 37% responded with decreases, which averaged at 5% (Figure 3). While the increase reported is down by a hair from last year’s 66%, the trend of increasing demand continues, as was made clear in many of the write-in responses we received. No respondents reported ridership staying the same from 2010 to 2011. Four operators stood out with significantly high increases, ranging from 30% to 73%.

Scheduling technology
As with last year, the majority of carriers, at 57%, claimed they did not utilize any new technology in 2011. Nearly one-fifth of operators implemented scheduling and dispatch software to more efficiently meet rising demand and improve productivity. One operator, Davenport, Iowa-based River Bend Transit, even created a separate staff position devoted entirely to scheduling trips. A handful of providers chose automatic vehicle location and to upgrade their IVR/call systems.
Additionally, respondents cited investing in cost accounting software, accepting online reservations and taxi swipe card technology.

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