One fun, key piece of the launch was Spare’s team, including its Co-Founders Kristoffer Vik Hansen and Josh Andrews, who were on site to continue working with CapMetro’s team to ensure the transition went off without a hitch.  -  Photo: CapMetro/Spare

One fun, key piece of the launch was Spare’s team, including its Co-Founders Kristoffer Vik Hansen and Josh Andrews, who were on site to continue working with CapMetro’s team to ensure the transition went off without a hitch.

Photo: CapMetro/Spare

In October, Austin, Texas' Capital Metro decided to replace its paratransit management system with Spare's modern ADA paratransit platform.

At APTAs TRANSform & EXPO, Chad Ballentine VP, demand response & innovative mobility, at CapMetro, told METRO Magazine the agency hit its 92% on-time performance goal mere days after the switch to the Spare system.

Its amazing, frankly, to be at that level of performance right after implementation,” he said at the time.

At about 67 days in, Ballentine and Spares VP, Customers, Quinn Kliman, joined METROs Executive Editor Alex Roman for a webinar that included an extensive Ask Me Anything (AMA) to discuss the partnership and answer questions from industry peers.

After an intense one-hour session, here are some key takeaways from the partnership and AMA.

It Was Years in The Making for CapMetro

The agency had been using its previous system for 20 years and spent many of those years shopping for a new solution that not only would be more user-friendly for its passengers, but also more efficient for its team. After some site visits, expressions of interest, and two failed RFPs over those 20 years, CapMetro finally decided to take a leap of faith and partner with Spare, whose previous focus was mostly on-demand transportation systems.

"It was a leap of faith for us, but it proved to be a good decision,” said Ballentine. We had a high bar set for our ADA paratransit service and really had to put our faith in Spare, and they committed from the top down.”

Ballentine added that the more modernized service brings an app-based solution, like Uber or Lyft, to its paratransit customers, which had never been done previously.

"ADA paratransit customers have never been given the same type of services [as other on-demand transportation programs]. It is long overdue that we finally give them a much more modern system,” he said. That was one of the biggest pieces that drove us to make this decision.”

It Takes A Village

While CapMetro started by firming up its eligibility processes, the switch over to the Spare system itself wasn’t without its hiccups, however, the company worked closely with CapMetro along the way, particularly when it came to ensuring it met ADA compliance standards.

Spare has been a great on-demand software solution, but it still had some had some work to do to get the ADA compliance and FTA-mandated regulations in order, because it's tricky,” said Ballentine. It's a lot more difficult than people understand when it comes to getting ADA paratransit [right]. So we did a lot of work there, and Spare was with us the entire time.”

Ballentine added that training a staff of 500 was another large undertaking CapMetro had to face, but said the agency made the decision to move that training as close as possible to launch.

We tried to bring it up as close to launch as possible so that we wouldn't train people, then they'd go back to the old system and forget what they had just learned,” he explained.

Having worked so closely with Spare each step of the way, Ballentine reported the launch of the system went better than expected. In fact, he said, to be safe, the agency never turned off the old system just in case it had to switch back over, which it never had to do.

One fun, key piece of the launch was Spares team, including its Co-Founders Kristoffer Vik Hansen and Josh Andrews, who were on site to continue working with CapMetros team to ensure the transition went off without a hitch.

The whole team was here for weeks, from the very early morning hours until the very late evening hours, tweaking and adjusting the system as necessary,” said Ballentine. Certainly things popped up that had to be figured out and adjusted on the fly but having them here was a huge help for us and  it made it go very smoothly.”

It sounds kind of cliche, but we are successful when our partners are successful. And, how you make a partner successful is you are with them every step of the way – you are constantly listening to them and working together to solve problems,” added Spares Kliman. We were extremely lucky to work with the folks at CapMetro, who have provided so much value to us in terms of helping us figure out what we needed to build and what we needed to do to improve. Now, we are excited to take what we learned and bring it to others in the industry.” 

The Capital Metro and Spare teams (including Chad Ballentine center in orange shirt) celebrated the launch of their partnership in early October.  -  Photo: CapMetro/Spare

The Capital Metro and Spare teams (including Chad Ballentine center in orange shirt) celebrated the launch of their partnership in early October.

Photo: CapMetro/Spare

It’s A Process, but The Early Results are In

About two months into the project, CapMetro recently rolled out its rider app. Just before that, it introduced its payment system. Taking the time to do both because the agency wanted to be sure they were ready. Next on that list is introducing SMS alerts.

We’ve done it in phases, just so that our staff could be prepared, and its gone rather smoothly,” said Ballentine.

He added that CapMetros dispatchers love” the new system and that the agency no longer has schedulers, but rather service coordinators who are able to do everything that is necessary. He also said operator feedback has been positive.

We were expecting a lot of pushback from our vehicle operators because change isn’t usually exciting for them, but they love the change,” said Ballentine, who added part of that positive feedback has come from how intuitive the system is for them.

The new flow made more sense, it was a little more intuitive, and that made it a lot easier to get over the hump with them,” he said.

Lastly, Ballentine said from his perspective as a manager, its been great to have a web-based system that allows him to log into his phone to check where a vehicle is, what its next pickup is, and more, all from the palm of his hand.

Some Helpful Tips for Those Planning on Taking A Tech Leap

Switching to a new paratransit system or not, it is always challenging to launch any new software.

Some tips Ballentine shared included:

  • As mentioned above, it’s a monumental task, so treat it as such and take your time when making the transition.
  • Outlaw the phrase but its how we’ve always done it.” Its a new system, so its time to do away with the old way of thinking.
  • Use the opportunity to make adjustments to how you do things. Ballentine said its incredible how many workarounds an agency can create when working with a legacy system. Switching to a new software system enabled the agency to make changes to the way it did things at every level, including with its eligibility process, dispatch personnel, and scheduling.

Ballentine also added that it was crucial for CapMetro not only to build an accessible system for its customers but for its staff as well.

We feel it's important to hire folks that represent who we serve,” he said. So this has been a big change, which allows us to go to our [ADA] ridership and even look to them for hiring and filling in some of our open positions. Thats an exciting element for me personally and is something that we really took to heart [when adding this new system].”

The Industry Had Questions, CapMetro Had Answers

During a lively AMA session, there was an overwhelming number of questions that rolled in during the final 30-plus minutes of the webinar, touching on every facet of the CapMetro/Spare project, including:

  • The criteria used to pick a new private partner.
  • How the Spare technology was able to evolve from an on-demand, co-mingled service to one that can be used for ADA paratransit services.
  • How Spare’s algorithms work.
  • Tips for getting leadership signoff to transition to a new software program that will be more beneficial for both customers and employees.
  • How the agency continues to work with its private partner now that the system has been implemented.

For answers to those questions, as well as more background on the project itself, click here.

About the author
Alex Roman

Alex Roman

Executive Editor

Alex Roman is Executive Editor of METRO Magazine — the only magazine serving the public transit and motorcoach industries for more than 100 years.

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