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38 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance Comparison to Peers Peer comparison is another and a common approach to assessing DRT performance. With this approach, the DRT system identifies a number of other systems that share basic character- istics, researches the performance of those similar systems on selected performance measures, and compares its own performance with that of the peers. Sometimes these peer assessments are done at the state level for comparisons of Section 5311 systems across the state. Peer assessments may include caveats, stating something to the effect that peer system com- parisons should be "treated with caution" because although selected DRT systems may share similarities, there are differences that influence performance. This means that direct compar- isons are not exactly "apples with apples." It may, therefore, be more appropriate to compare a DRT system's performance with the range of performance achieved by similar systems rather than with specific individual numbers. Peer comparisons provide useful information for a DRT system interested in knowing the per- formance of other rural systems on specific measures. The range of performance achieved by peer systems provides a context for a rural system to look at its own performance in comparison with that range. This can be a valuable exercise. Choosing peers, however, may not always be straightforward. One of the objectives of this research project was to develop categories of DRT systems so that the systems in each category share criteria affecting performance. With groupings of similar systems, peer assessments would be more appropriate. The development of this categorization of DRT systems is discussed next. 5.3 Categorization of Rural DRT Systems Measuring a DRT system against similar systems can be useful for assessing performance. However, with the many different systems across the country, it may not always be clear as to which DRT systems are similar enough to be appropriate peers. Typology of DRT Systems Based on Criteria Affecting Performance At an early stage of the research project, DRT systems were categorized as either urban or rural, given the significant differences between the two. With this division, then, it was determined that two guidebooks would be developed: one targeted to urban systems (TCRP Report 124) and the second to rural systems, which is this Guidebook (TCRP Report 136). However, in addition to urban versus rural, there are a number of other criteria affecting performance: Ridership market served, Service area or operating environment, Type of routing and scheduling, Advanced request versus immediate request service, Type of organization--transportation only versus multi-purpose agency, Type of operator--public agency versus contractor, Dedicated versus non-dedicated vehicles, Use of advanced technology, Door-to-door versus curb-to-curb service, Use of volunteers, Provision of Medicaid non-emergency transportation, and Vehicle operating experience. These criteria are reviewed below.

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Assessing Performance--A Typology of Rural DRT 39 Criteria Influencing DRT Performance Ridership Market Served A significant characteristic influencing DRT performance is the type of riders that are served (6, 7). In the early years of DRT in the 1970s, a major distinction was made between systems that served the general public and systems that served specific population segments of the commu- nity, often seniors and persons with disabilities. In terms of performance, DRT systems serving the general public can typically achieve higher productivities than systems serving specialized markets, for a number of reasons: The pool of potential riders from the general public is larger, creating a higher density of potential demand. Dwell time at pick-up locations is shorter for general public riders. This includes both the established wait time, set by policy, and the time needed for rider boarding and alighting. Data from a number of DRT systems in the mid 1990s found that dwell times at pick-ups for ambulatory riders, which make up the large majority of general public riders, averaged 2 to 4 min, while that for riders using wheelchairs, which may be a significant portion of the specialized rider market, was 4 to 6 min (8). There tend to be fewer late cancellations and no-shows at systems serving the general pub- lic as general public riders are typically less likely to cancel trips on short notice or no-show trips because of health issues and inclement weather. In the years since the ADA legislation was enacted, a key performance distinction among DRT systems is between those that function as ADA paratransit and those that do not (5, 9, and 10). Importantly, the ADA regulations establish requirements that systems must meet, a number of which essentially set general or specific standards that affect performance (5). Among these include regulations that specify when and where service is to be provided, the fare structure parameters, that all trip purposes be served, that trip requests be taken for next-day service, and that capacity constraints are not allowed. DRT systems that are not ADA paratransit do not have to meet these requirements and have more flexibility in providing service, which means that the DRT systems have more latitude to make changes to improve performance. This criterion--type of ridership market served--is particularly significant for urban DRT systems since many urban DRT systems function as ADA paratransit services, with different parameters impacting performance than is the case for limited eligibility or general public DRT systems. Given the important distinctions, ridership market served was one of the criteria used to categorize urban DRT systems for TCRP Report 124. Most rural DRT systems, however, are available to the gen- eral public rather than being limited to specific rider groups, so differences in the rider groups served are less useful for catego- rizing rural systems. To the extent that rural systems operate fixed-route service, however, they have to provide ADA service "Service to ALL People, of ALL Ages, for ALL as a complement to their fixed routes; these systems will have Reasons!" to ensure that their ADA paratransit services meet established regulations. Service Area or Operating Environment The service area influences DRT performance in several significant ways: number of people living in the service area, geographic size, and distribution of residential areas and trip destina- tion areas. A service area with a larger population will have a larger pool of potential riders. A service area that is large geographically will tend to have longer trip lengths, and a low-density dispersion of residential areas and trip destinations across a service area will also mean longer trip lengths and less opportunity to group trips.

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40 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance For a large geographic service area, whether there is just one major center of commerce and retail or two or more centers will also impact DRT trip lengths. With just one major community in a large rural area and with a dispersion of residential areas, many DRT trip lengths will be long. However, if there are two or more larger communities with the same dispersion of residential areas, the DRT system may be able to focus at least some of the trips (e.g., shopping) to the closer communities. In this way, the DRT system may be able to reduce the number of longer trips. Trip length is a particularly important performance factor: DRT systems can serve fewer longer trips in a given amount of time compared with shorter trips, which impacts both productivity and cost per passenger trip (5). Other aspects of the service area may also impact performance--for example, geographic fea- tures influencing the ease or difficulty of travel throughout the community. Geographic features such as mountains or coastal barrier islands may limit the highway network so that DRT systems serving such areas have longer trip distances and travel times compared with other DRT systems serving areas where the highway network is not similarly constrained. The service-area criterion has been used to categorize both urban DRT and rural DRT systems for purposes of the research project. For urban systems, service area is defined by population size of the service area, with categories commonly used in the transit industry: small urban, with pop- ulations from 50,000 to 200,000; large urban, with populations from 200,000 to 1 million; and largest urban, with populations greater than 1 million. The urban DRT systems were categorized first by this criterion, then by ridership market served. For rural DRT, the service-area criterion is also used to categorize the systems. Rather than population size, the general geographic size of the service area is used, defined by the three main categories of service area that are used for Rural NTD reporting: municipal (primarily serving a single municipality or town), county (serving primarily a single county), and multi-county (serving primarily within the boundaries of two or more counties). Type of Routing and Scheduling The type of routing and scheduling structure has an important influence on DRT operations and performance (57, 911). DRT systems with a very flexible or unconstrained routing/scheduling structure will not be as productive as those with a less flexible, constrained structure. The dis- tinction is often described as "many-to-many," with many different pick-ups going to many dif- ferent destinations, versus "many-to-few," "few-to-few," or "few-to-one," where groups of riders are transported to only a few drop-offs or just one drop-off. The former type of DRT will have many individualized trips, with less opportunity for shared riding and thus fewer trips provided in a given amount of time, whereas the latter have more opportunity to group passengers since there are limited destinations. The grouping of passenger trips will increase productivity and decrease cost per passenger trip. In order to increase the ability to group trips, many rural DRT systems operate some con- strained service, with service to and from specific parts of the service area or to and from specific destinations operated on a fixed schedule. For example, a county-based system may serve an out- lying small community at a set time each day: a vehicle is scheduled to depart at a fixed time from that community at 9:00 A.M and then is scheduled to arrive in the county's main town 90 min later. Individuals in the outlying community who wish to travel to the main town would book a ride for the 9:00 A.M trip, with the DRT vehicle then scheduled for individualized rider pick-ups in the small community and drop-offs in the main town. In this way, the rural DRT system has grouped riders' trips from the outlying community by constraining them to a set schedule. Such hybrid demand/scheduled service might be seen as "few-to-few." While the type of routing/scheduling has an important affect on DRT performance, it is dif- ficult to capture with discrete categories since DRT systems are not solely many-to-many or

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Assessing Performance--A Typology of Rural DRT 41 many-to-one or few-to-one and so on. DRT systems typically have a mix of trip types using dif- ferent routing/scheduling schemes. Advanced Request versus Immediate Request Service From the perspective of a DRT system, there are several performance differences between immediate and advance request service. With immediate request service, a DRT system is able to change and insert trips on a real-time basis, providing the opportunity for higher productivity (12). Cancellations and no-shows are less frequent with immediate response DRT systems (13). With advance reservation service, however, a DRT system can focus on refining the service-day schedule and operators' manifests, providing an opportunity for performance improvements. Late cancellations and no-shows, however, will negate some of this effort, creating "holes" in oper- ators' schedules. DRT research has found, using simulation of advanced technology, that there is a 4% to 5% decrease in productivity for every 10% increase in the late cancellation rate (14). Performance data from the sample of rural DRT systems that participated in this research project show that those systems operating as immediate response have a higher productivity than those operating as advance response. The difference is over two passenger trips per hour. (It should be noted that immediate response service is not appropriate in all service areas; this is discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.) While this is a significant performance difference, this criterion has not been used for the typology of DRT systems since the distinction between the two types of scheduling is not a clear and discrete one. As was found in the research, DRT systems--even if immediate response-- provide some subscription service, which is advance reservation service; most DRT systems pro- vide some immediate response service, such as will-calls or "urgent trips," albeit for many DRT systems, such immediate response service is only a small proportion. Type of Organization--Transportation-Only versus Multi-Purpose Agency The type of organization that provides DRT service is another criterion that has been found in prior research to have some affect on cost performance, at least for rural systems. Specifically, an early TCRP study of rural transit suggested that rural services be distinguished between those provided by agencies that function as transportation-only agencies and those provided by multi- purpose agencies (11). That study found wide cost differences between the two types of agencies and reported that such differ- ences seem to reflect different accounting and reporting proce- dures: administrative and overhead costs are spread among dif- ferent services and programs for multi-purpose agencies while transportation-only agencies absorb all administrative and over- head costs. Cost differences, according to the study, may also result from operating practices since multi-purpose agencies may be more likely to use volunteers. Given the cost differences that were found, that study separated the rural agencies on this criterion for purposes of presenting performance data. Some cost differences by type of organization were also found among urban DRT systems through analyses done for this research project. Based on the performance data from the urban DRT systems, it was found that those urban DRT systems oper- ated by transit districts and transit authorities tended to have a higher cost structure than those operated by other types of organizations, predominately cities, as measured by operating

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42 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance cost per revenue-hour. A transit district or authority generally has a full complement of functions needed for transit within one organization, and full cost accounting is more standard when com- pared with other organization types that are not transit only. Recent TCRP research (TCRP Report 127) on transit employee compensation at rural and small urban transit systems looked at employee wages and benefits at different types of transit organizations (15). This research found that non-profit agencies provide lower compensation compared with transit authorities and governmental units (e.g., cities, counties); this will impact the organization's cost structure, given that labor is the largest single operating cost component. Furthermore, that study's data also suggest that non-profit organizations tend to be the more frequent transit provider in multi-county areas compared with providers in primarily single- municipal or primarily single-county service areas. These findings suggest that the cost struc- ture for rural transit systems operating in multi-county areas will be somewhat lower compared with rural systems in the primarily municipal and primarily single-county service areas, and the performance data from the rural DRT systems participating in this research study bear this out. Data from the study's sample of rural DRT systems show that the average operating cost per hour for systems in the multi-county service area are less than the average cost per hour for systems in the other two service-area categories, by roughly 30% to 35%. While type of organization has not been chosen as a criterion to further categorize DRT sys- tems for this Guidebook, to some extent the categorization by service-area type captures cost dif- ferences suggested by organization type, at least for the multi-county category, where the more common organization type is a non-profit agency. Type of Operator--Public Agency versus Contractor DRT systems can be differentiated by whether they are directly operated by a public agency versus privately operated by contract (5, 16, and 17). This criterion is more significant for urban DRT systems as the large majority of rural systems operate services directly (4). The major performance distinction between the two types of operator is generally considered to be cost. With differences in labor costs between public and private transit entities and the fact that labor is the dominant component of transit operating costs, it is generally accepted that DRT services that are contracted to private entities may result in some cost savings compared with services directly operated by a public entity. Recent research based on data from urban systems suggests that cost differences may not be statistically significant, however (18). According to this research, this in part may be due to use of financial penalties for contracted service, to the extent that contractors may be bidding price structures that cover expected losses due to the penalties, or to the scheduling of vehicles in such way as to avoid conditions that result in the penalties. Dedicated versus Non-Dedicated Vehicles The issue of dedicated versus non-dedicated vehicles is impor- tant from several perspectives when differentiating types of DRT service. A "dedicated" vehicle is one that is used only for the DRT service; a "non-dedicated" vehicle is one that is used for the DRT service some of the time, but is used for other trans- portation purposes when not in use for the DRT system. A taxi vehicle is a good example of a non-dedicated vehicle. A city may purchase its DRT service from a local taxi company, with DRT service provided through user-side subsidies to eligi- ble riders, for example, with coupons or tickets. The taxi vehi- cles provide DRT service when providing a trip to an eligible coupon holder, but provide private taxi service when transport- ing other types of riders.

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Assessing Performance--A Typology of Rural DRT 43 Use of non-dedicated service may improve cost efficiency since the public entity sponsor pur- chases only that amount of service that is needed; yet, dedicated service provides more control to the sponsoring public agency, which may result in somewhat higher quality service. From a data-collection perspective, data collection may be somewhat more difficult with non-dedicated services, particularly taxis, and this may impact efforts of the public entity sponsor in monitor- ing performance. Use of Advanced Technology Considerable research has been conducted that analyzes the impact of advanced technology on DRT performance, with the general conclusions being that use of advanced technology provides various performance improvements. In particular, the literature suggests that use of CASD systems can improve productivity (1822) although reportedly the magnitude of improvement was generally not large. Improvements in such areas as the reservations function, dynamic dispatching, and providing improved information to riders have also been reported (22). In addition to CASD, an AVL system has been found to improve DRT performance, according to some published accounts and research (14, 2325). Improvements relate to higher on-time performance and productivity gains to the extent that the real-time information provided through AVL can be used to make scheduling adjustments. For rural transit, advanced technology has also been found to facilitate performance improvements in customer service with improved information available to give to riders, improved system safety, reduced data entry time, and improved control of vehicle operators and their hours (26). Door-to-Door versus Curb-to-Curb Service The distinction between DRT that operates as door to door and curb to curb is another crite- rion affecting DRT operations and performance. From an operational perspective, door-to-door service is sometimes considered to increase dwell time, measured as the time that the vehicle spends from the time it arrives at the pick-up or drop-off location to the time that it departs, given that the vehicle operator goes to the door of the passenger's building at both the pick-up and drop-off to provide assistance to and from the vehicle. However, the paratransit industry lacks good, quantifiable data as to the extent of the effect, and there are some who maintain that door-to-door service may shorten dwell time (at least at the pick-up end). This is because the operator announces his arrival by going to the rider's door (rather than sitting passively in his vehicle and waiting for the rider) and then helps the rider negotiate--and perhaps negotiate more quickly with the assistance--the distance from the pick-up building to the vehicle. The level of rider assistance--door-to-door versus curb-to-curb service--is a performance- related criterion that receives more attention at urban DRT systems than at rural systems. Rural DRT systems typically have a policy regarding the level of rider assistance that is offered, but there is often considerable flexibility with respect to individual riders' assistance needs. Use of Volunteers The use of volunteers for DRT is another practice that affects DRT performance. DRT systems, particularly in rural areas and smaller communities, may use volunteers as drivers in conjunction

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44 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance with paid drivers; these systems may also use volunteers to serve in other capacities, such as administrative assistance (5, 27). Use of volunteers will provide a different cost structure than a system that uses only paid staff. For example, if operat- ing statistics for the volunteer component are included in the Volunteer Driver Program system's total operating data and costs, performance on mea- The Volunteer Driver Program provides safe, reliable sures that use operating costs may look "better" given that transportation to individuals who are on assistance or have needs there will be no labor costs for the volunteers. that can not be met by our public transit systems. Paul Bunyan Transit works in cooperation with Beltrami County, MNDOT and This research study found that only one of the participating private pay individuals to transport customers to doctor's rural DRT systems uses volunteers on a regular basis, and oper- appointments, clinics, treatment centers and home visits. ating data and costs for this service component are kept sepa- rate from other DRT services. This allows the rural system to assess its volunteer component as a distinct service and not one that is commingled with the rest of the system's services. Provision of Medicaid Non-Emergency Transportation The provision of Medicaid non-emergency transportation is yet another factor that can affect the operations and performance of DRT systems. According to research, its impact on DRT per- formance is mixed (28). Providing Medicaid transportation may have the potential to enhance performance as the addition of the Medicaid clients adds to the pool of riders, thus allowing the system to schedule more trips per unit of service supplied. Yet, Medicaid trips may also hinder performance. Where such trips are long to distant med- ical facilities, performance will be negatively impacted. Other Medicaid-related factors can neg- atively impact performance, including the level of recordkeeping required for Medicaid trans- portation providers and the eligibility verification process, which can be difficult and time consuming. Additionally, state Medicaid agencies typically require specific software programs to interface with central state records, and these programs are expensive to purchase. Importantly, Medicaid's impacts on DRT service are affected by location since Medicaid is a state-administered program, with each state determining its own approach to providing Medic- aid transportation and with varying requirements on the transportation providers. Some states have very stringent requirements for Medicaid transportation, similar to ADA paratransit requirements, which can significantly impact DRT performance. The analysis of data and information collected from the rural DRT systems participating in this research project suggests that the impacts of Medicaid transportation are particularly affected by the distances that must be traveled to serve the medical destinations, with high mileage and time-consuming trips. Several of the systems have developed practices which try to mitigate some of these service impacts, such as serving the distant facilities only on selected days each week (not all states allow systems to implement such practices). One multi-county system coordinates some of its medical trips including Medicaid with neighboring providers to try and create efficiencies. A single-county system opened up its longer-distance Medicaid trips to other riders to improve productivity. The contract arrangements for payment of Medicaid transportation service was another Medicaid-related topic raised by some of the participating rural DRT systems. Several systems reported that their contract provided essentially a fixed amount pre-determined at the start of the year. While there might be options to ask for supplemental funds or to obtain a fuel adjust- ment, several of the rural systems reported financial difficulties in providing the Medicaid trans- portation, with two multi-county systems reporting that they were running a deficit on that part of their service.

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Assessing Performance--A Typology of Rural DRT 45 Several of the other participating rural transit systems mentioned more flexibility in relation to payment, with less stress on the DRT system. One county-based system where close to one- third of all trips are Medicaid explained that its Medicaid budget, submitted each quarter, will be adjusted up or down based on the actual costs incurred during the preceding quarter. Medicaid is a large funding resource for transportation in all states. In rural areas, funding for Medicaid can be a significant source of operating revenue yet rural systems have to grapple with the operational impacts that such service can have on the overall DRT system. Vehicle Operator Experience The tenure and experience of DRT vehicle operators is increasingly being recognized as a cri- terion affecting DRT performance. Experienced DRT vehicle operators--those who are familiar with the service area, know their passengers' trip patterns, and understand the system's policies and procedures--can contribute to improved DRT performance, including productivity. DRT performance can be impacted where there are high rates of turnover among vehicle operators as many operators leave their positions before they become experienced. TCRP Proj- ect F-13, "Vehicle Operator Recruitment, Retention, and Performance in ADA Complemen- tary Paratransit Services," has been investigating the relationships among vehicle operator recruitment, retention, and performance, specifically in relation to ADA paratransit services. As part of that study, a national survey of public transit agencies and their contractors was con- ducted, and high annual turnover rates were noted in many operations. The survey also indi- cated that a lack of workforce stability is having an impact on performance in some systems. The research is identifying the factors that affect recruitment and retention and is examining suc- cessful practices, including wage parity and integration of fixed-route and ADA paratransit work- forces at some public transit agencies. The research is also attempting to quantify the impacts of turnover on service productivity and service quality. Typology of DRT Systems Developed Through the Research Project Building on earlier research that attempted to classify DRT services and analyses of perfor- mance data collected through this research project, a typology of rural DRT systems has been developed and is shown in Table 5-2. Use of the three-part service-area criterion captures the relative size of the area within which rural DRT systems operate. Service area size is highly cor- related with trip length--a factor with great influence on DRT productivity. This typology of rural DRT systems is used to present the performance data of the DRT systems that participated in the rural phase of the research project, which is the topic of Chapter 6. Table 5-2. Typology of rural DRT systems. Municipal DRT Systems County DRT Systems Multi-County DRT Systems Service operated primarily within a Service operated primarily within Service operated primarily within single city, village, or town boundaries of one county boundaries of two or more counties