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.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.
Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world.