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How to Increase Paratransit On-Time Performance to above 90%: Q+A with SARTA’s Nick Davidson

Jan 02, 2018
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Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA)’s technological improvements allowed them to reduce paratransit costs, enhance the customer service experience and coach operator morale, and improve key performance indicators (KPIs) such as on-time performance (OTP) to above 90%.

We sat down with Nick Davidson, Transportation Planning Manager at SARTA, to find out how they did it.

Trapeze: You’ve been using Trapeze’s paratransit software, PASS, since 2002. Over the years, you’ve added more modules to help you get the most out of the software. Tell me about the issues you were having back in 2013.

Nick Davidson, SARTA: Prior to 2013, SARTA’s demand response coach operators would fill out pick-up and drop-off times manually on paper manifests. The next day, SARTA customer service representatives would enter limited data from those manifests into Trapeze PASS. The result was that the reported OTP numbers were based on estimated times rather than actual data which was heavily inflated.

Many coach operators would come in 60 minutes before their shift to review their paper manifest and how they could best navigate to their locations. Drivers would evaluate and adjust their manifests to try to improve routing. This would not always yield positive results and effectively bypass parameter settings.

Trapeze: Sounds like that wasn’t efficient. This was right before you installed a Computer Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL) system. What impact did that have on your dispatchers?

SARTA: Without a real-time CAD/AVL system, our dispatchers could not effectively monitor the location of the fleet or navigate road supervisors/maintenance to the location of buses in need of assistance or driving directions. This led to driver concerns, a stressful dispatching center, and diminished on-time performance (OTP).

In November 2013, we installed CAD/AVL on-board mobile data terminals (MDTs) which provided coach operators with electronic manifests. The turn-by-turn directions made navigation much easier. The CAD/AVL system allowed for actual GPS time-stamped arrival and pick-up data to go back into the Trapeze system. We used that data to determine where the hold ups were and how we could improve their OTP. 

In that same month, we implemented Trapeze PASS-IVR. This allows paratransit users to schedule, confirm, or cancel rides using their touch-tone phone. This module also allows us to send imminent arrival phone calls and next day reminder calls to paratransit users. These calls helped reduce no-shows and late cancellations considerably.

Next, we implemented Trapeze PASS-WEB, branded as SARTA Go-Line. This enabled our paratransit users to login by computer, smartphone, or tablet to schedule, confirm, or cancel their rides without calling Customer Service. This reduced the call volume that passengers and Customer Service Representatives experienced.

Trapeze: When you implement a lot of different tools, training can be an issue, especially as staff comes and goes, which is normal for a transit agency. How did that affect you?

SARTA: We started using Trapeze software in 2002, so ten years later, many employees who had been originally trained to make changes to the Trapeze system had retired or left. By 2012, the remaining staff members were instructed not to make any alterations to the configuration of the PASS system. I was told to only touch three buttons, anything else and I’ll break something. With limited knowledge of the PASS parameter settings, no one wanted to be responsible for disabling or damaging the Trapeze PASS system.

In 2013, SARTA sent a few colleagues and me to the ThinkTransit Conference (formerly the User Conference) which significantly improve our understanding of the system.

Trapeze: We’re glad to hear the conference helped you take back things you could improve at your agency – that’s exactly what it’s for. I understand that you also made some service changes in 2014 – could you tell me about that?

SARTA: In January of 2014, we began to offer contract services in addition to paratransit service. The new business model was a significant change and became problematic to our paratransit operations. This negatively impacted on-time performance and other key indicators. We also purchased new Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) paratransit vehicles that did not have the same fuel range as the other diesel-fueled vehicles. Coach operators driving CNG vehicles were forced to return to SARTA headquarters to fuel during their shift which impeded productivity and OTP.

These issues prompted my CEO, Kirt Conrad, to order a health check from Trapeze to realign our Trapeze PASS structure with our new demand response business model to take full advantage of all of Trapeze’s capabilities and resolve the newly formed issues.

Trapeze: For those who don’t know, a health check is when a Trapeze specialist comes on-site to investigate how a customer is using a product. The specialist determines the customer’s issues, pain points, property setting configuration, and scheduling efficiency, and sends a follow-up report that includes recommendations and changes to the agency.

SARTA: Trapeze PASS guru Keith Forstall came to perform our health check and provided training to many of our staff that had not been formally trained before. Some of the specific recommendations that were applied included:

  • Adjusting travel speeds
  • Modifying fast costing settings
  • Adjusting passenger load times
  • Introducing paraservice types and new booking subtypes to accommodate our additional demand response services
  • Setting up the Batch Schedule Agent to automatically do daily subscription matching
  • Realigning maximum on-board times to be more proportional to length of passenger’s trip
  • Configuring the requested drop-off logic to automatically calculate an appropriate pickup time based on the rider’s appointment time and length of trip

Trapeze: Wow! A lot of changes. What results have you seen since then?

SARTA: A lot of positive results. Our staff are much savvier and experienced regarding their knowledge of parameter settings in PASS. The administrative staff is no longer apprehensive about making changes to the system. I can see that the drivers are much happier too. The ones who used to voice concern are now much more satisfied with the system and they come to me if they have an issue. It’s a much more collaborative relationship now.

Finally, the biggest win has been our improved OTP. It’s gone from 82% in 2014 to above 90% in 2017.

Trapeze: We’re so happy to hear that!

If you want to learn more about SARTA and how their organization is embracing technology to drive continued results such as these, make sure to attend Nick Davidson’s session at the 2018 ThinkTransit Conference.


 
Jeff Zarr has over 30 years of transit experience and 20 years of project management experience in the public transportation industry, as well as providing Paratransit consulting services for over 100 Paratransit agencies across North America, Europe, and the UK. As the Industry Solutions Manager for Trapeze Demand Response, Jeff shares his Paratransit expertise and experience throughout the North American Demand Response industry.
 
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