A critical component of Orange County Transportation Authority’s (OCTA) mission to deliver public transit to the three million residents of Orange County is our paratransit service, an area that continues to see increases in both ridership and cost.
In our ongoing effort to improve this service and provide it in the most cost-effective way possible, OCTA recently completed a state-of-the art indoor center to qualify disabled individuals for our paratransit service, called ACCESS, which provides one million rides annually.
One of only four indoor centers in the nation, riders being evaluated are escorted through a series of tests that verify their ability to use ACCESS services, including boarding and exiting the bus, navigating through the center aisle and using the farebox.
The simulator provides accurate and efficient evaluation of riders’ abilities while also improving the customer experience for the 58,000 ACCESS customers.
The indoor facility houses a 40-foot bus used in testing individuals for paratransit service. Surrounding the bus are actual sidewalks and operating traffic signals to give users the feel of a real bus stop. It also contains curb-cuts, and life-size murals depicting shops, business offices and other unique venues such as Angels Stadium, making the test as real a simulation as possible.
The $52,000 facility was built as part of OCTA’s contract with C.A.R.E. Evaluators, which provides services to determine customers’ eligibility for using ACCESS. Each month, approximately 500 people are certified or re-certified to use the service.
Among the many benefits of the new center is the ability to evaluate customers more efficiently, saving staff time and money. Previously, riders were put through an outdoor evaluation that lasted an hour to test their ability to navigate uneven surfaces and curbs, but they did not board a bus. Evaluators can now test a customer’s ability to navigate multiple surfaces, board a bus and pay the fare, all within a controlled environment.
The testing today can be completed within 30 minutes, providing the same level of service in half the time and offering a more comfortable environment for customers. In addition, standardizing the evaluation process helps to accurately determine if a customer can use the fixed-route service for some trips, which can help to significantly reduce our costs. Subsidizing ACCESS service costs OCTA $50.17 per ride, versus $3.76 on the fixed-route service.
Ultimately, the success of our ACCESS service is measured by the customers’ experience and I’m proud to say that a recent passenger survey found 88% of users are satisfied with the service.
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Typically, when riding the rails in the Philadelphia region, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority customers can purchase daily, weekly or monthly passes — even onboard tickets — for their journeys. But the weekend of Sept. 26 to 27 will be far from a typical weekend in Philadelphia — Pope Francis will be in town, along with an estimated 1.5 to two million people attending public events along the city’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.