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What if You Could Order Paratransit the Way You Order Pizza? Thanks to This, You Can

Feb 01, 2018
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With the rising costs of paratransit services, new options, like Family of Services, can help

It’s a Thursday night.

You just came home from work, and your stomach starts growling. But you’re exhausted.

Time to order some food. You make a few taps on your phone, and the app says dinner will be delivered in 30 minutes. Normal right?

But imagine if you had to order your food at least 24 hours in advance and then it’ll be delivered. Sounds crazy yet, due to federal requirements, that is the norm for riders using a transit agency’s paratransit services.

That’s all to change. In the States, Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is picking up steam – as it should. It allows consumers to bundle their public and private transit services – bus, bike, rail, car sharing, and more – all for one low monthly fee like cable companies do for television, internet, and telephone or paid for à la carte. What does that mean? More flexibility and mobility freedom for riders.

In Canada, some agencies are piloting the Family of Services (FOS) program which takes the concept of MaaS and applies it to the paratransit realm. The disabled community would be able to leverage existing fixed route services for same day services which will help provide more freedom and flexibility in conjunction with current paratransit operations.

I recently caught up with Jeff Zarr, our Industry Solutions Manager - Demand Response, to get his perspective on FOS.

Paul: Jeff, what’s the value of a FOS program for transit agencies and their riders?

Jeff: For riders, paratransit services normally have to be booked one to seven days in advance. FOS provides more freedom as it allows the flexibility of same day services by using a combination of services that also includes fixed route options. For transit agencies, the cost of providing regular door to door paratransit services is increasing at an unsustainable rate. So helping customers choose less costly options by enabling them to use fixed route service would lower the overall cost.


Paul: Given the current state of technology, what's one example you'd highlight to show how agencies can benefit from utilizing technology to create a future-proof FOS program? 

Jeff: Different agencies are doing different parts of it, but a good example would be San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (SDMTS). They identify people on a trip by trip basis and determine if this trip qualifies based on their abilities – if they can navigate to and from the transit stop, then they can use the FOS program. Other agencies use taxis instead of dedicated fleets. After riders get a taxi, they’ll get a push notification. Translink tried to do it when they developed taxi profiles. There were problems when they implemented this since everyone wants a taxi, but no one wants to share their ride. Other agencies have taxi vouchers which were used to mixed results as a bunch of shorter trips were taken since the public likes them, they were using them more. But the agencies were only breaking even from this business model.


Paul: What are the steps that transit agencies should take to ensure it's a seamless transition between what riders are used to and the new technologies that they would potentially implement in the future? 

Jeff: The software has to talk to each other, seamlessly for journey planners, eligibility systems, and more. The technology would also have to be flexible in speaking with other third-party software. But the best is to have one brain – a central system that can speak and work with everything seamlessly. Our paratransit software, PASS, is more than capable of being that brain for transit agencies. It’s our comprehensive paratransit solution that helps with client registration trip booking, real-time scheduling, service dispatching, and more.


Paul: What about transportation network companies (TNCs)? How could they play a role in the bigger picture? 

Jeff: Taxis and TNCs follow the same model in the sense that they’re both non-dedicated services. However, transit agencies have been reluctant to use TNCs in the U.S. due to accessibility issues. Everyone can use TNCs, but there are issues such as being wheelchair accessible and more. There’s also the concern with the TNCs being compliant with ADA standards. Although we did just launch our collaboration with Lyft, which could help mitigate the risks and with the logistics side of things.


Paul: Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers about FOS programs? 

Jeff: It’s a good idea, and the growing cost of providing traditional paratransit is causing agencies to become more aggressive in this area. Other variations have been used such as mobility management. But riders don’t want these programs since it’s too inconvenient.  Agencies also wouldn’t want that type of publicity if their riders aren’t happy. They will need their board to get behind it. The concept is great since it’s easier, more dependable, and cost-effective.


Thanks Jeff for helping us analyze the FOS program – a potentially cost-effective alternative to traditional paratransit service that builds on the concept of travel training and MaaS by providing more freedom and flexibility for our paratransit passengers. 

Paul Comfort is the VP, Business Development at Trapeze Group. Prior, he most recently served as CEO and GM of MTA Maryland (Baltimore’s transit agency), the 11th largest transit system in the U.S.
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