Over 30 million paratransit trips are requested in the U.S. every year. With the proportion of Americans aged 65 and older projected to represent 20% of the population by 2030, the need for paratransit trips is expected to rise dramatically. Additionally, the ongoing driver shortage is affecting agencies across the nation with nine out of 10 agencies citing that they are having challenges filling transit roles. Though paratransit has advanced significantly since riders having to call in days in advance for a ride, transformation of paratransit to combat existing challenges is ongoing.
Paratransit has evolved in what can be considered two major phases of innovation. The initial wave of innovation brought the adoption of dispatch software and in-vehicle devices to manage the complex service. With this, riders are required to pre-schedule rides primarily through a call center and trips are delivered on a fleet of dedicated vehicles. The second wave of innovation is underway with a prominent focus on technology-first platforms and the rise of non-dedicated fleets.
Even 30 years after ADA has come into effect, many transit systems are not as fully accessible as they could be and lack inclusivity. For millions of paratransit riders, waiting for a ride with no insight into the status of their trip is a common and frustrating experience. The rigidity of existing paratransit systems and strict regulatory policies pose a challenge to agencies trying to foster fully inclusive services.
These challenges are being addressed in the second wave of innovation with tools to book via the web or mobile app as well as real time notifications of vehicle ETAs. The introduction of non-dedicated taxis, TNCs, and local transport providers combined with automatic optimization across all fleets is bringing the cost per trip down and allowing for better service.
With many options on the market, agencies must take into account certain considerations when selecting a technology partner especially since each paratransit service is unique and may have differing needs based on ridership and location.
- Inclusive Booking and Communication Channels
Sixty-one percent of those aged 65 and older in the U.S. own a smartphone, which is an increase from 10 years ago. Though seniors are getting more comfortable with technology, it is vital to have the right technology to provide multiple booking options available to riders. This is especially true for people with disabilities and vulnerable populations that may not interact with technology in the same way. Beyond placing a call to an agency’s call center, it should be possible to schedule rides through agency branded apps, web-based interfaces or via an Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) system. To foster a positive rider journey throughout, agencies can provide updates on vehicle ETAs to riders through text messages, voice calls, and email.
Accessibility in transit goes beyond wheelchair friendly infrastructure, such as ramps and curb stops, in the new era of paratransit, accessibility also constitutes better access to communication and ease of use of software tools. It is paramount to go with a technology provider that has a user-friendly interface and accounts for specific impairments — the simpler it is to book a trip and the more options available, the more accessible the service. This is also applicable to the backend operations: the easier it is to maneuver a new software, the lower the barriers to adopting the new software and training operators.
Technology and subsequent increased accessibility are demonstrated by Mountain Line GO! In Flagstaff, Ariz. The Huntington and Industrial corridor has a high density of local essential services such as dialysis clinics, a homeless shelter, and a food bank. The area is frequented by vulnerable individuals — 63% of riders identify as older or with a disability — who may not have access to a mobile device or cellular. To ensure equitable access to all needing to access the corridor, Mountain Line provides multiple booking options including via call center and online booking and mobile app. Non call center booking options are used by approximately 60% of riders. The agency also partnered with local organizations to speak with riders face-to-face and provide support in learning how to use the technology.
Summary: It is key to work with a technology partner that places accessibility at the forefront. This is both for the agency in removing strain from employees through a straightforward interface but also for providing equitable access to paratransit for riders.
- Trip Brokering to Non-Dedicated Fleets
For transit agencies, limited fleets, fluctuations in rider demand, access to funds, and the ongoing driver shortage pose significant challenges in providing quality ADA paratransit service, especially with increasing rider demand.
Intelligent trip brokering and turnkey solutions have entered the market recently, with Spare pioneering the shift toward mixed fleets. Intelligent trip brokering and turnkey solutions provide a cost effective and flexible solution for agencies. These solutions are implemented using non-dedicated vehicles, often provided by TNCs such as Lyft, UZURV, Uber, or taxis and wheelchair accessible vehicles for ambulatory riders.
Technology platforms that can seamlessly integrate with TNCs allow agencies to access vehicles and drivers beyond its dedicated fleet network, reducing need for investment in new resources. Costs for non-dedicated vehicles are only incurred upon trip completion, thereby resulting in lower costs overall. A clean integration from the rider’s side provides a seamless and, therefore, positive experience as the technology partner serves as a bridge between the TNC and the transit agency.
Turnkey operations and trip brokering result in reduced cost per trip for agencies and an innovative and flexible solution. Collin County Transit offers a brokered service in McKinney, Texas, and uses Spare software to allocate rides between its partner TNC, Lyft, and its dedicated fleet of vehicles. Seventy percent of trips are brokered to Lyft and the agency completes 30% of trips. Using technology to broker trips has resulted in cost savings of 47% per ride when brokering trips and allows for effective coverage of a service area spanning nearly 900 square miles. It’s an easy solution for riders as well accompanied by the positive experience of having wait times slashed from 30 minutes to between 14 and 16 minutes with Lyft.
Summary: A technology partner that has the ability to seamlessly integrate a trip brokering feature and work in partnership with TNCs can bring about cost savings, increased flexibility, and an improved rider experience.
- Easier Reporting & Access to Actionable Data Insights
Accurate and timely information is vital to operating an effective transit system. Manual reporting practices are tedious and leave room for errors which can cost your agency hours to resolve them.
Partnering with a technology platform can make agency reporting duties easier through pre-defined and government compliant reports that can be easily accessed. Such analytics capabilities also allow agencies to monitor the status of their service in real time and determine where scaling opportunities exist. Heatmaps and historical data tracking make it ideal to spot trends and patterns, allowing for informed service planning. Technology partners that offer customizable dashboards place your key performance indicators and metrics at the forefront, ensuring you can easily access the information you need to succeed as a transit agency.
Citibus, based out of Lubbock, Texas, previously had little to no insight into its operations with its previous legacy software provider. After switching to a SaaS platform, Citibus was able to access real time information surrounding its service and there was more visibility into the operations of each trip. Additionally, after considering demand patterns emerging on the heatmap, Citibus is now able to make an informed decision about where to place transit lines to meet the needs of its riders.
Summary: Access to data thanks to a technology partner can revolutionize a service through informed decision making and intentional strategic initiatives guided by data.
- Automation: Optimized Routing
Gone are the days of manually mapping routes and matching riders to vehicles based on pickup addresses. Manually routing a paratransit trip is not only taxing, but it also could result in higher operating costs if routes are not properly optimized.
This is where a technology partner with the right capabilities can help by creating an optimized route based on requested rides. In the case where there are more requests than ride capacity, dispatchers would usually need to negotiate with the rider and suggest alternatives to best meet the rider’s needs. This process can be simplified through the use of technology first platforms: software is able to detect the best alternative for the rider much quicker based on the passenger’s booking window. The use of a smartphone app also makes this process easier as the app can notify passengers of newly proposed times, which riders can then choose to accept or deny.
Agencies should also seek to partner with technology platforms that are customizable and flexible. Optimized matching, in real time, reduces cancellation costs and maximizes an agency’s existing fleet. Some technology partners make it possible to optimize driver manifests for near term trips on live duties in real time based on parameters set out by the agency. This is especially helpful in the odd case where drivers may be running late to pickups earlier on in their manifest or if there is additional availability due to any cancellations. Agencies can maximize their PPVH while maintaining satisfied riders.
Citibus faces high demand for its service but like any transit agency, also has to deal with cancellations at times. The agency defined parameters on how it wanted its system to run using Spare’s Global Optimization of Live Duties (GOLD). The optimization feature has transformed driver duties by ensuring more seamless pickups and drop-offs, especially in the case where drivers may be running late. Citibus gets to define the measures for optimization meaning that it retains full control of how its service operates. Optimizing rides in real time has led to phenomenal results for Citibus including a jump from 75% on time performance to 95%.
Summary: Technology partners can automate agency operations but it’s best to look for one with customizable options so that your agency can retain control of how you want to run your service.
- Making the Most of your Fleet with Commingling
The cost of running a paratransit service can increase quite quickly especially when fleets sit idle. Additionally, running both a paratransit service and microtransit service can be quite financially taxing for an agency when these systems are running in parallel.
Commingling refers to multiple rider types benefitting from the same vehicle and same driver: agencies can use one dedicated vehicle to serve different rider groups in the same zone concurrently. Filling empty paratransit seats with microtransit riders and vice versa is an optimal way to maximize vehicle efficiency, reduce costs and increase passengers per vehicle hour.
Mountain Line GO! maximized its paratransit fleet through introducing commingling and was able to increase its boardings by 10%. Most microtransit trips occurred when vehicles would have been idle with no paratransit riders, resulting in higher vehicle productivity. Providing a commingled service also meets the needs of riders that may not be eligible for ADA Paratransit but still require some sort of assistance or have certain impairments.
Summary: Technology partners that enable commingling can maximize an agency’s fleet productivity and drive efficiency.
As paratransit offerings continue to evolve since ADA paratransit was first introduced 30 years ago, it becomes more evident that to modernize operations, working with a technology partner is becoming increasingly critical.
Working with the right technology partner allows agencies to save time and money when it comes to reporting and optimized routing. It also provides a customized solution to fit an agency’s specific needs surrounding its paratransit service, whether it’s implementing commingling, brokering trips, adding booking options for riders, and providing a straightforward interface for all.