With COVID-19 basically canceling the trade show and awards season, METRO Magazine decided to honor our 2020 Innovative Solutions Award winners here in print.
Now in its sixth year, the Innovative Solutions Awards honors bus operations and their supplier partners who have implemented initiatives that helped them save money, run more efficiently, streamline operations, increase safety, improve customer satisfaction, increase ridership, and more. This year, we categorized our winners into six categories: Technology, Safety, Passenger Experience, Operations, Clean Tech, and Mobility.
Spare/StarTran (Lincoln, Neb.)
Commingling means riders of different on-demand services — such as paratransit and microtransit — share the same vehicles and drivers. This concept has never been applied to public transit before, although it’s well known in the aviation industry where (tiered) passengers share an airplane regularly. In general, it allows more cost-effective services through shared fleets/vehicles and higher pooling rates; enables operational efficiencies by adopting an on-demand, fully automated administrative approach; boosts community cohesion; reduces loneliness; and provides a more accessible and inclusive transit solution.
In April 2020, StarTran launched a commingled paratransit and microtransit service that propelled their flexible transit solution at the innovative forefront of North America’s transit industry. By implementing this service, StarTran was able to double their ridership while eliminating the need for three other vehicles on the road, which would have been necessary to operate the same level of service without commingling. Compared to this scenario, they saved up to 33% in operational costs. They also saved 25%, or 40 hours, of staff time per week on scheduling and dispatching costs by automating their flexible transit services through the Spare Platform.
“Many of StarTran’s processes were manual and we did not have the ability for our customers to book trips without calling in. We often had cancellations or no-shows that went unfilled and were not efficient. In addition, all scheduling was done manually, which took a great amount of time and effort for our staff,” says Mike Davis, transit manager at StarTran, who spearheaded the project with Carla Cosier. “Now, customers can self-serve by booking trips through an app. StarTran is able to fill in trips when no-shows and cancellations happen with same-day service and our team is able to provide door-to-door trips for the public utilizing smaller vehicles, which brings greater convenience.”
Davis adds the upgrade has made a positive impact in Lincoln’s community, because the transit network is easier to use, more affordable to run, and more inclusive. It has also made an impact on StarTran’s employees.
"In the app, customers are able to rate the service, and we are proud to hold a 96 percent positive rating,” says Davis. “Also, StarTran drivers appreciate having a map in the vehicle to show them where they are traveling to and customers appreciate the same-day convenient service. Our dispatch staff is also extremely grateful for the scheduling feature, because it frees up their time to focus on our customers.”
On-demand transit has proven to be more resilient in times of a pandemic, represented by the faster bounce back of its riders; superior adaptability over regular buses; and ability to implement more sophisticated safety measures, such as contact tracing, rider capping, and cleaning routines, according to Spare officials.
The company has launched multiple COVID-19 response services, such as in Lubbock, Texas, during the first wave of the pandemic, and is about to launch multiple COVID-recovery services, in the U.S., Canada, and Germany, in the next months.
Masabi/NEORide (Ohio, Kentucky)
NEORide is a collection of 15 transit agencies in Ohio and Kentucky that have partnered to drive accessibility, interoperability, and improving the passenger experience. Riders were previously resigned to using a mixture of exact-fare payment when boarding and dealing with antiquated ticketing infrastructure to purchase different tickets in different locations to facilitate travel on each of the networks. The need for a seamless payment solution covering all the agencies, as well as providing increased convenience to drive passenger uptake, was obvious.
Currently, 13 of the NEORide agencies are enrolled in EZfare, including Laketran, SARTA, TANK, and the Cincinnati Bell Connector, making EZfare a seamless multi-state regional fare payments solution allowing for regional interoperability and providing Account-Based Ticketing (ABT) functionality to riders. ABT gives riders the ability to ride without needing to buy a physical ticket, providing a range of virtual options such as mobile phones, smart cards, and contactless bank cards to tap and ride. During the pandemic, having a touchless payment option has also provided a “safer way to pay” for drivers and passengers than using the traditional fare medium.
Through the EZfare app, which is powered by Masabi, users can purchase fares on any of the participating agency’s networks, at any time, from anywhere. The app is available from the App Store and Google Play.
EZfare is also available in the Transit and Uber apps, allowing for increased accessibility and discoverability. Transit and Uber’s integration of the EZfare platform via Masabi’s Justride SDK enables transit ticketing from within their existing applications.
“Riders can now download the EZfare app, or locate us through our partnerships with Moovit, Transit App, and Uber, and purchase tickets across multiple transit systems in a single location, therefore, eliminating the need to wait in line at multiple transit systems or carry cash,” says Katherine Conrad, director, client services, at NEORide. “By implementing ticketing in multiple applications, we are also helping to make transit easier to choose and use, to user bases of some of the best mobility applications in the world, and doing so in a cost-effective way that helps put public transit front and center of mobility across Ohio and Kentucky.”
The initial uptake has been strong, with the service processing over $1.2 million in fare revenue over the first few months and helping facilitate over 640,000 more convenient journeys by the beginning of March 2020.
“Every transit involved walked into the project with the intention of building a stronger system together. As a result of that mindset, within a year, we have built a nationally recognized mobile ticketing system that is at the infancy of its potential,” says Conrad. “Integrating ticketing into the urban app ecosystem across multiple states is a new and unique approach, which we see other states starting to follow.”
Thanks to a $3.3 million award from the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2019, EZfare agencies are now deploying validation units across their fleets during 2020. The EZfare validators will be running Masabi’s Justride Inspect software, which will give agencies reliable journey information and ensure riders a more seamless boarding process.
In June, one of EZfare’s partner agencies, SARTA, was also awarded $1.9 million from the FTA Integrated Mobility Innovation Grant to complete funding for the validators. In addition to the validators, EZfare will have the ability to integrate smart cards and stored values that can be applied across the entire system and to other partner agencies as well.