As of Jan. 1, Broward County, Fla., transitioned its door-to-door paratransit services to a centralized call center and rebid contracts with service providers, in an effort to consolidate the service and make it more efficient.
Previously, nine different companies had contracts to provide paratransit service for the county but the number was reduced to five under the new contracts, says Robert Nelson, the county's director of transit. Before the switch, the service providers all made their own reservations and handled routing separately.
As Nelson describes it, the county's transportation department had been looking at ways to make paratransit trip routing more efficient — the county provides about 900,000 paratransit rides per year. "We ran some tests with some routing software and that got us thinking we needed a centralized call center so the trips are flowing through one source, not nine different sources," Nelson explains.
While budget concerns played a part in the impetus to make the change, Nelson says improved customer service and efficiency are also targets. The county hopes to be able to track clients' trip patterns, special transportation needs and experience with the service through the call center, which is also outsourced.
A recent blog post on SunSentinel.com cited critics of the change who have voiced concern over delays in service for the area's disabled residents. The post noted that the county's three longest-serving providers lost out to lower-cost bidders. Critics have questioned whether the new providers would be ready for the Jan. 1 start date with vehicles in proper condition.
"We've just started our third week of this new program, and it's had some hiccups in terms of transitioning clients into a more centralized service model, but it's getting better everyday," Nelson says. "Some of our long-term clients would say, 'but I had my favorite driver.' So we're being very delicate with that by delivering enhanced customer service."
According SunSentinel.com, the county faced a $109 million budget deficit this year, forcing commissioners to order the restructuring of the tax-supported paratransit service. By rebidding the van contracts and switching to the centralized call center, officials believe they will save $8 million.
In addition, Nelson says, "The upside will be the opportunity to leverage the developing technology in this industry that would be more cumbersome if we didn't have a centralized call center. I don't think there will be any downsides, but we have to be mindful of the clients' history with the program and recognize that centralization is a different model and we've got to work with them in a collaborative way."