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This chapter presents a range of policies, procedures, strategies, and practices that can improve DRT performance, providing possible ideas and actions that rural transit systems can consider for improving their performance. Some of the actions are discussed in detail, building on the specific experiences of rural DRT systems participating in the research project. This was a major focus of the project: identifying actions and strategies that rural DRT systems have taken to improve their performance and documenting their experiences. In some cases, the participating DRT systems were able to provide data quantifying the positive performance outcomes. More frequently, the systems described the qualitative results of their actions. 7.1 Actions for Improving Rural DRT Performance There are numerous actions that a rural DRT system can consider for improving its perfor- mance. Many of these are similar to those identified through the projectâs urban phase and doc- umented in TCRP Report 124, such as developing and enforcing a no-show policy to combat the lost time and resources resulting from rider no-shows. To some extent, the areas of emphasis for performance improvement may differ for rural sys- tems as compared with their urban counterparts. Rural systems may be more interested in expanding their ridership base by contracting with local human service agencies to transport those agenciesâ clients, for example. A large urban DRT providing ADA paratransit service may take a different approach, with a focus on managing demand. Interestingly, some of the rural systems participating in the research project had opposite experiences with the same strategies implemented to improve performance. For example, two of the participating systems changed their route deviation service to demand-response with signif- icant productivity gains. However, another system went the other way, changing part of its demand-response service to route deviation and improving productivity. Thus, it is important to understand the operating environment within which a rural system operates when planning performance improvements. Various policies, procedures, strategies, and practices that can affect DRT service positively in the shorter- and longer-term are listed in Table 7-1. The focus of this list is those actions specif- ically identified by the rural DRT systems included in the research as well as those identified by urban DRT systems that are relevant for rural DRT. Also listed are a number of actions gener- ated during early efforts of the research. Not all the listed actions are appropriate for all rural DRT systems, and, importantly, there are likely other actions and strategies that DRT systems have implemented in their communities across the country with resulting performance improve- ments, which are not captured through this project. 59 C H A P T E R 7 Improving Performance
60 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance Identified Actions By Rural DRT Systems By Urban DRT Systems Through Research & Experience Operations Improve vehicle operator compensation Establish comprehensive vehicle operator training program Use part-time drivers Schedule back-up operators Rotate demand-response and fixed-route operators Establish satellite parking areas for service vehicles Assign certain operators to take DRT vehicle home at night Align operator shifts to meet ridership demand Cross train staff Scheduling/Dispatch Implement computerized scheduling/dispatch system Implement AVL and MDTs Provide scheduled service to frequented destinations Provide immediate response service Professionalize scheduling/dispatch function Maximize use of subscription service Review, refine, tighten subscription trips on periodic basis Accept âwill-callsâ judiciously Obtain operator input on schedules on periodic basis Service Design Ensure service design âfitsâ community, revise as needed Use volunteers for long-distance one-to-one trips Use rural DRT as feeder service to rural inter-city routes Policies and Procedures Adopt and enforce no-show/late cancel policy Develop and enforce cancellation policy Shorten the advance reservation period Establish on-time pick-up window Establish wait time policy Establish policies/procedures for bad weather operations Educate riders on policies and procedures Funding Get involved in community, build relationships, and gain funding Establish effective payment schemes for human service agency clients/riders Sell advertising on vehicles Marketing, Public Relations, and Passenger Relations Focus marketing efforts on general public Advertise with campaign/yard signs Identify key person at human service agencies to address rider- related issues Maintenance and Vehicles Provide effective preventive maintenance practices Ensure appropriate mix of DRT vehicles Safety Monitor accident trends Involve operators in a safety committee Reward safe operators Establish a âculture of safetyâ Table 7-1. Actions to improve DRT performance identified through research project.
7.2 Performance Improvement ActionsâMore Details and Selected Experience This section of the chapter discusses the various improvement actions identified in Table 7-1 and, for many of these, provides the experiences of the rural DRT systems participating in the project. The actions are organized into the eight categories used in the table: operations; sched- uling/dispatch; service design; policies and procedures; funding; marketing, public relations, and passenger relations; maintenance and vehicles; and safety. Within each of the eight categories, actions reported by the DRT systems participating in the research are discussed, after which addi- tional actions, generated during the early efforts of the research project, are identified. Another way of organizing the improvement actions is by the specific performance issue that is addressed; see Table 7-2. In this way, readers of the Guidebook interested in a specific aspect Improving Performance 61 Table 7-2. Performance improvement actions identified through research project, listed by performance issue. Performance Issue Management Action See Page Implement AVL (and MDTs) 68 Align operator shifts to meet ridership demand 66 Provide scheduled service to frequented destinations 70 Consider immediate response service 72 Professionalize scheduling/dispatch function 73 Maximize use of subscription service 73 Review, refine, and tighten subscription trips on periodic basis 73 Accept âwill callsâ judiciously 73 Obtain vehicle operator input on schedules on a periodic basis 74 Establish wait time policy 78 Adopt and enforce no-show/late cancel policy 75 Improve productivity Educate riders on policies and procedures 79 Ensure effective preventive maintenance practices 83 Focus marketing efforts on general public 82 Advertise with campaign/yard signs 82 Increase ridership Get involved in community, build relationships 80 Implement AVL (and MDTs) 68 Educate riders on policies and procedures 79 Establish on-time pick-up window 78 Establish comprehensive vehicle operator training program 63 Schedule back-up operators and ensure service coverage 64 Improve customer service Identify key person at human service agencies for rider- related issues 83 Adopt and enforce no-show/late cancel policy 75 Develop and enforce cancellation policy 76 Shorten advance reservation window 77 Reduce cancellations and no-shows Educate riders on policies and procedures 79 Establish satellite parking areas for service vehicles 65 Assign certain operators to take service vehicle home at night 65 Reduce deadhead Provide scheduled service to frequented destinations 70 Use part-time operators 64Improve staffing flexibility and efficiency Implement computerized scheduling/dispatch system 67 Establish effective payment schemes for agency clients/riders 81 (continued on next page)
of rural DRT performance (e.g., improving productivity) can look at the improvement actions identified for that specific issue. Table 7-2 also indicates the page number in this chapter where the improvement actions are discussed. Operations Many of the issues under the operations category relate to vehicle operators. With labor costs the largest single component of transit costs and vehicle operators the largest employee group, improvement actions targeted to vehicle operators can bring important performance benefits. Improvement Actions Reported By Participating Rural Systems Improve vehicle operator compensation. DRT systems understand well the critical role that their vehicle operators play in providing effective service. Well-trained and experienced 62 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance Table 7-2. (Continued). Performance Issue Management Action See Page Improve vehicle operator compensation 63Stabilize operator workforce Establish comprehensive vehicle operator training program 63 Improve vehicle operator compensation 63 Establish comprehensive vehicle operator training program 63 Rotate demand-response and fixed-route operators 65 Cross train staff 66 Improve DRT staff working environment: â increase retention, â increase understanding across functional areas, and â improve relationship with riders Educate riders on policies and procedures 79 Get involved in community, build relationships, gain funding 80Increase funding resources Sell advertising on vehicles 81 Improve cost efficiency Use part-time operators 64 Implement computerized scheduling/dispatch system 67 Establish satellite parking areas for service vehicles 65 Use volunteers for long-distance one-on-one trips 75 Ensure effective preventive maintenance practices 83 Ensure effective mix of DRT vehicles 83 Establish comprehensive vehicle operator training program 63 Monitor incident and accident trends 84 Involve operators in a safety committee 84 Reward safe operators 85 Establish policies/procedures for bad weather operations 79 Ensure effective preventive maintenance practices 83 Implement AVL 68 Educate riders on policies and procedures 79 Improve safety Establish a âculture of safetyâ 85 Change route deviation to demand-response 74 Change demand-response to route deviation 74 Use volunteers for long-distance one-on-one trips 75 Consider alternative service design options Use rural DRT as feeder service to rural intercity routes 75 Coordinate separate, neighboring DRT services 75
operators can contribute to a more productive and more efficient and effective DRT service. If wages and benefits paid to operators are too low in comparison to wages and benefits for simi- lar positions in the community or region, they may not be sufficient to attract and retain qual- ity employees. The result will be excess turnover among operators (e.g., 30% to 50%), which results in ongoing needs to recruit and train new operators (and increases overhead expenses) as well as a constant stream of new and inexperienced operators. The inexperienced operators will be less familiar with the service area, will not know the riders and their needs, and will not be as productive as more experienced operators. An ongoing large proportion of new operators may also impact safety because such operators may be at higher risk for incidents and accidents. While operator wages and compensation may receive more attention in larger, urbanized communities, the issue is relevant in rural areas as well. Research has found that the position of vehicle operator is among the hardest positions to fill and retain although smaller transit agen- cies seem to have somewhat less trouble than larger agencies (29). TCRP Report 127 provides compensation guidelines for rural and small urban transit systems, including benchmark wage and benefit data and guidance on compensation decisions. The 24 rural transit systems that participated in the research project reported differing expe- riences related to vehicle operator hiring and retention. Some reported no problems; some reported that while part of their operator staff was relatively stable, another part was not. Fre- quently, the systems reported that their operators tended to be retired individuals, often less interested in full-time positions or benefits. Those that reported problems noted that among the younger operators there was more turnover. Several reported problems retaining operators with a CDL license. One system, a pri- vate non-profit agency, was having trouble retaining operators with CDLs. As a way to address the problem, the agency began to phase out the larger vehicles from its fleet, those that required a CDL for operation. Additionally, several of the participating rural systems reported problems competing for operator positions with trucking companies and the local school district. Improve vehicle operator compensation. Improving vehicle operator compensation is an obvious strategy to ensure an effective and stable operator workforce, but it is an action that not all systems can take, depending on budget situations. One of the participating rural systems, located in the countryâs western region, reported that it increased starting operator wage rates beyond minimum wage to $11 per hour. Also, when the provision of zero-deductible healthcare insurance (provided for staff working 30+ hr/wk) became too expensive, this transit system determined that it would cost $14,000 less per year to reimburse staff for the cost of the deductible than to pay the premium for zero-deductible. These and other changes have con- tributed to a stable operator work force. Another system reported that it made a conscious deci- sion to pay its well-qualified operators to work overtime when this becomes necessary rather than hire less-qualified staff, stating that its overtime expenses are typically offset by the savings in health insurance and other benefits that would be required for additional staff. Establish comprehensive vehicle operator training program. Rural systems should ensure that they establish comprehensive training and re-training programs for their operators. Such training programs may be less formalized at small systems compared with large urban systems, particularly where the rural transit service is a component of a larger, multi-purpose organiza- tion. Nevertheless, training is crucial to ensure safe operations and service quality to passengers. Effective training and re-training programs may help rural systems retain operators and reduce turnover. In particular, training programs that include a focus on supporting and mon- itoring trainees and mentoring programs for new operators have been found to be effective in retention of operators (30). A number of the participating rural systems specifically cited their comprehensive operator training program as a practice that had performance benefits. For Improving Performance 63
example, Hill Country Transit District, a large multi-county system in Texas has an in-house training program, including CDL certification, which includes 3 weeks of operator training. It also provides annual refresher training. The system reports long-term operator staff with very low turnover. Another multi-county system, River Cities Public Transit in South Dakota, has in-house training that provides CDL certifica- tion and includes the CTAA Passenger Service and Safety (PASS) program, available through the stateâs transit association. This system reports that it has experienced reduced insurance costs as a result, as well as fewer accidents and no wheelchair-related inci- dents since implementing its comprehensive training program. The rural system manager correlates the systemâs investment in its operator staff with the systemâs high service quality. A third multi-county rural system participating in the research developed a comprehensive driver training program using a nationally recognized consultant. The program includes 40 hr of instruc- tion including classroom and on-the-road training with an instructor, plus an additional 20 hr of on-the-road training in the specific part of the large service area to which the operator is assigned. One of the participating rural systems developed a specialized operator training program, beyond the federal CDL requirements, that incorporates state training requirements for trans- porting youth. This operator training program was developed to meet the systemâs own needs. However, once the training program started and operators were trained, other local transporta- tion providers would lure the newly trained operators away with a small increase in wages or ben- efits. To address this, the transit agency opened up its training program and makes it available to other agencies. Use part-time operators. Many of the participating rural DRT systems use part-time vehi- cle operators, with several calling out specific actions related to part-time staff. One rural system reported that it hired part-time operators to cover mid-day time periods so that service capacity during the mid-day, when DRT ridership can remain strong, would not be impacted when full- time operators had lunch breaks. A multi-county system located in an area that is attractive to retirees has had success in recruit- ing and retaining recently retired individuals to work as part-time vehicle operators. The system manager reports that these individuals typically do not want a full-time position, and that they are motivated less by wages and benefits and more by an interest in âserving the community.â The system has benefited as its part-timers have become a stable core of operators, giving the system flexibility in staffing and covering operating hours that may vary throughout the large service area. There are also cost-savings since the system does not provide health insurance for part-time employees. Schedule back-up operators to ensure service coverage. Systems of all sizes should ensure that they have back-up operators who can fill in when regularly scheduled operators are not able to work due to illness, vacation, or other reasons. For a small system, this might involve asking an operator with a scheduled day off if he or she could work instead. Or it may mean that office staff members should be cross trained to serve as operators when the need arises. In this way, scheduled service can be maintained for the riders. In central California, Fresnoâs FCRTA, with a workforce of about 50 vehicle operators who are assigned to different small communities across the large county service area, reports that it typically schedules about 10 back-up or standby operators each service day to ensure service continuity. 64 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
Rotate demand-response and fixed-route operators. Intracity Transit in Hot Springs, Arkansas, rotates its demand-response and fixed-route operators on a 4-wk cycle and reports that this practice provides flexibility in staffing as well as improving staff cooperation and under- standing of the different responsibilities involved in fixed-route versus demand-response service. Additionally, the practice helps prevent a phenomenon sometimes seen at transit systems where operators of fixed-route service are considered âbetterâ than those of demand-response. With a rotating schedule, the operators reportedly share âtipsâ about serving particular demand-response riders, helping to create a shared working environment rather than one divided between âbetterâ and âless betterâ tiers of operators. Establish satellite parking areas for service vehicles to reduce excess deadhead time and mileage. Several of the rural systems with large service areas have established satellite parking areas for some of their transit vehicles, area selected because the satellite location is within or close by the particular part of the service area to which the vehicles are assigned. The operators of those vehicles (and often it may be just one vehicle) then report to that satellite location to pick up their vehicle and begin their service day. A number of the larger rural systems are operated through non-profit organizations such as an area agency on aging or community action agency, and the transit system is able to use its affiliated offices such as a senior center for satellite parking. Garrett County Transit in western Maryland, for example, uses a senior center affiliated with its parent community action organization that is located about 25 miles from its main facil- ity and parks five transit vehicles there. The driver manifests are sent to that senior center before each service day via fax, and the operators report directly to that senior center to get their vehicle and daily schedule. This practice had reduced sig- nificant deadhead time and miles. One of the county-based rural systems found that its use of satellite parking areas in its very large service area must be considered with security in mind. Since the system has experienced stolen batteries with its transit vehicles parked at unsecured satellite parking areas, it now looks for safer venues such as the secured lots of the small cities within its county service area. Assign certain operators to take service vehicle home at night to reduce deadhead. Several of the participating rural systems reported that they have selected operators to take their assigned transit vehicle home at night. One of the systems referred to this practice as âout-posting.â The operators selected for this practice are often those who are scheduled to provide service in the outer parts of a large service area and who also live in or near those outer parts. The operator then has his or her service vehicle available at the start of the day without having to travel to the main DRT facility and deadhead back to provide transportation service. This practice reduces the deadhead time and miles that would be otherwise required and also benefits that operator who now does not need to commute the distance to the central facility to pick up the service vehicle. The Inter-County Public Transportation Authority (ICPTA), a multi-county system in north- eastern North Carolina, reports that some of its operator hiring decisions may be influenced by where the individual lives, facilitating the rural systemâs practice of having some of the operators take a transit vehicle home at night to reduce deadhead requirements on service days. This rural system, provided through a county health department, indicated that its operators can use the Improving Performance 65
local health department offices in the various counties of the service area to fax in their mani- fests at the end of their service day, facilitating recordkeeping. One issue of note with this strategy is that DRT systems receiving FTA funds must consider compliance with FTAâs drug and alcohol testing regulations, specifically related to vehicle oper- ator monitoring by supervisory staff for âreasonable suspicion testing,â which becomes more difficult when operators start their service day from their homes. Other Improvement Actions Align operator shifts to meet ridership demand. DRT systems should ensure that they schedule their vehicle operatorsâ shifts to match the systemâs ridership patterns. A mix of full- time and part-time operators typically provides a DRT manager with more flexibility for effi- cient operator scheduling. The scheduling of lunch and other breaks should be done to maxi- mize capacity during peak demand times. The ability to schedule lunch and other breaks on a real-time basis, using time that is freed-up by no-shows or late cancels, is another way to maxi- mize productivity (31). While larger, urban DRT systems that have labor contracts may need to schedule operator shifts and breaks according to work rules, smaller rural DRT systems may not have such issues. However, some systems, particularly those operated by municipalities or counties, have opera- tors scheduled according to the public entityâs standard 40-hr, 9-to-5 workweek even though the DRT ridership patterns may not correspond to office hours (6). Most DRT systems have off-peak periods with lower ridership when a full complement of service may not be merited and busier time periods when additional capacity is needed. In such cases, the DRT manager should try to arrange for more flexible staffing and set up operator schedules that match ridership patterns. This will ensure more productive service. Several of the DRT systems participating in the urban phase of the research project have given particular attention to this strategy, specifically managing the supply of their revenue hours to match demand. This requires that the DRT system understand its ridership patterns, by hour and day of week, by month and by season. Once ridership patterns are understood, the DRT sys- tem can then schedule its operatorsâ work schedules to match expected ridership patterns. In this way, the system can reduce less productive time and increase its productivity. Cross train staff. Cross training staff was a management action identified in the urban phase of the DRT research project. With the interdependency of various DRT functions, for example, the relationship between dispatch and vehicle operators and an understanding of each otherâs position responsibilities can contribute to a better working relationship among staff and provide performance benefits through increased knowledge of service issues. Cross training may happen spontaneously in a smaller, rural DRT system because with a small staff, members may have to fill in for each other on occasion. However, cross training can also be done on a more formal basis, with an objective of having staff better understand their col- leaguesâ responsibilities, which can lead to improved working relationships across the various DRT functions. Scheduling/Dispatch Many of the participating rural DRT systems reported actions that they had taken to improve the scheduling of trips and, in some cases, the dispatching as well. These improvement actions are discussed below. Beyond the reported actions, there are others that can be considered and these are also identified. 66 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
Improvement Actions Reported by Participating Rural Systems Implement computerized scheduling/dispatch systems. Use of technology at rural transit systems is increasing (32), and research has documented actual or potential performance improvements for rural transit with use of CASD systems in a number of specific areas. These include customer service, with the ability to provide all riders with the same level of service using a uniform approach to reservations and scheduling; improved scheduling procedures; increased productivity, with the improved scheduling procedures; more efficient billing procedures, with improved data that is available more quickly; and potential staff reduction or re-assignment with the more efficient procedures when using CASD (26). While research in Illinois found that the benefits of CASD increase with the number of DRT vehicles and trips (22), there are many small and rural DRT systems that have installed CASD systems. DRT systems with as few as 10 vehicles in ser- vice can benefit from a CASD (13). At systems smaller than this, experience seems to show that the effectiveness of CASD varies considerably. Research on use of CASD in rural areas found that some DRT staff are not using all capabilities of the system, in part as they believe that certain functions are better done manually (26). Training was found to be helpful in encouraging staff to better utilize the system as well as changing certain procedures (26). Training is also useful to ensure that transit staff use the systems to maximize their usefulness and positive impacts on perfor- mance. Research has also found that many users of CASD sys- tems need additional training on their technology as some aspects of the system are learned through trial and error (22). More than half of the rural DRT systems participating in the research project use some type of computerized scheduling/ dispatch system for taking reservations and scheduling trips. A few have sophisticated systems commonly used for large urban systems, but more use computerized systems that are designed for smaller agency applications. As discussed in TCRP Report 124, the urban DRT systems focused on the operational improvements obtained with their scheduling/dispatch systems such as more accurate scheduling and âtighterâ operator manifests. However, the rural systems seemed more focused on the improved administration of the scheduling/dispatch function provided by their CASD systems, including reduced staff efforts and better data and recordkeeping. Reported performance improvements. The following performance improvements were reported: â¢ Reduced staff efforts for scheduling/dispatch function: With a CASD, several participating rural systems reported specific reductions in staff efforts involved with scheduling/dispatch and related recordkeeping duties. One system, operating a county-based coordinated service with about 30 vehicles and multiple funding sources, said it reduced its staff involved in trip editing from somewhat more than four FTEs to two. Improving Performance 67 Reported Benefits of Computer- ized Scheduling/Dispatch Systems â¢ Reduced staff efforts for scheduling/dispatch â¢ Improved vehicle operator schedules â¢ More efficient reporting and administration
Another county system noted that its CASD was an impetus for more efficient staffing: rather than having staff share responsibility for call-taking and scheduling, the two functions were divided so that one person is responsible for call-taking and a second for scheduling. â¢ Improved vehicle operator schedules: A small community-based DRT system notes that its operator schedules are more efficient with its scheduling/dispatch software, which also provides the ability to map the pick-up and drop-off locations. â¢ More efficient reporting and administrative procedures: CASD can facilitate more effi- cient administrative procedures. Albert Lea Transit in Minnesota states that its computer system provides âvery efficient and accurate reports.â B.C. Country Rural Dial-A-Ride in New York State recounted that its computerized system has greatly facilitated the billing of the various human service agencies whose clients use the DRT service, with more accurate and accessible data. Two other rural systems reported that their âoffice operationsâ are noticeably more efficient and that required monthly reports can now be provided electron- ically to the state DOT Section 5311 Program managers. Qualifications. As was found in the urban phase of the research study and has been docu- mented in earlier research (22), the implementation period for new technology can be difficult: â¢ Implementation takes time and effort: Two of the rural systems described implementa- tion and transition periods of many months, with significant staff efforts and frustrations needed to bring the system to a functioning state. â¢ Data entry requirements can be burdensome: One of the participating systems reported significant efforts to obtain and enter the data needed by its new CASD. In particular, this system had to obtain rider information to create âclient files.â To help wrestle rider infor- mation forms from several thousand individuals, the system gave a free ride coupon to those riders who completed and turned in their forms. â¢ New performance data may not demonstrate improvements: Research during the urban phase of the project found that performance may actually decline for a time period after implementation of new scheduling/dispatch software. This could be due to the learning curve that is needed for staff to adapt to the new software, and it may also result from more accurate data or even data that is defined differently by the software than was the case with prior manual methods. In particular, the scheduling/dispatch software may compute vehi- cle-hours and revenue-hours with a method that provides different results than the earlier manual method. If the new method gives greater hours data and ridership data are consis- tent, productivity will appear lower. Experience with rural transit also shows that in some cases, a good scheduler may be able to create operator schedules that are more efficient than those done by a computerized system. One of the participating rural systems, which appreciated the more efficient staffing that its new scheduling/dispatch system facilitated, found that its productivity showed notable declines with the new technology. It is not clear whether this was impacted by different data computa- tion methods, but it was reportedly influenced in part by changes in ridership, with a loss of a human service agency client and that agencyâs daily group trips as well as an increase in longer trips in the county as opposed to shorter trips within the countyâs largest community. Implement AVL and MDTs. While AVL and MDT technology are less common at rural sys- tems, research has found that such equipment provides for performance improvements for rural transit in the following areas: better customer service since dispatchers can provide more accu- rate information to riders because they can âseeâ where the vehicles are; increased system safety, with dispatchers more easily and more quickly able to respond to incidents since they can âseeâ vehiclesâ locations; reduced data entry time; more informed maintenance decisions, when MDTs are used to transmit pre-trip inspection reports for vehicles housed at remote or satellite loca- tions; better control over operator hours; and improved monitoring of schedule adherence (26). 68 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
In particular, the use of MDTs to transmit pre-trip vehicle inspections for vehicles housed in decentralized satellite locations, providing more informed maintenance decisions, was found to be an especially interesting use of MDTs for rural agencies (26). While only a few of the participating rural DRT systems have AVL and MDTs, the few that have the technology cited performance improvements, particularly related to productivity. This can be compared with the urban DRT systems participating in the first phase of this research project, which were more interested in the improvements in on-time performance that were enabled with AVL/MDTs. This may be due to the fact that most of the urban systems provide ADA paratransit, where there is significant attention to trip timeliness. Reported performance improvements. The following improvements in performance were reported: â¢ Allows dispatchers to âcontrolâ service in real-time, inserting passen- ger trips as trip requests are received, improving productivity: Since dispatchers can âseeâ vehicle locations with the AVL, they are able to re- direct operators on a real-time basis to insert additional passenger trips that fit into the operatorsâ already scheduled trips and general path of travel. This is particularly useful where service is provided on an imme- diate response basis or for same-day requests and will-calls for DRT sys- tems that are predominately advance request. Paul Bunyan Transit in rural Minnesota, with about 11 DRT vehicles operating on an average day, credits its systemâs AVL, implemented in 2004, with its ability to achieve its system wide productivity of almost six passenger trips per hour. While the systemâs productivity has been relatively high since the system began in 2000, there has been a substan- tial increase in the service area since then that also brought an increase in riders. However, the systemâs total DRT mileage has not increased commensurately with the service area expansion, indicating that sched- uling/dispatch efforts have contained deadhead mileage and focused more attention on shared riding and grouping trips. According to this rural system, the dispatchers use their AVL and âpushâ the operators âmost of the time,â keeping the systemâs productivity above five passenger trips per hour despite the increased rural service area size. Notably, this has been achieved without a CASD system. â¢ Better management of vehicle operators and service: The AVL technology allows the dis- patchers and other control room staff to better manage vehicle operators when they are out on the street. One of the rural systems participating in the research study said the AVL allows the dispatch staff to âmonitorâ vehicle operators. Another system reported that the AVL pre- vents operators from claiming that âthey are busyâ when they are really âjust parked some- place.â Dispatchers can capture this time for productive service when otherwise, without AVL, that time would likely become a lost resource. AVL also allows the rural systems to monitor speed, an issue that is typically more relevant for rural systems than their urban counterparts. The improved ability to manage operators is a significant benefit of AVL. â¢ Accurate response to âWhereâs my ride?â calls: Dispatchers can use the AVL when riders call to ask about their particular trip. With the ability to âseeâ a specific vehicle, the dis- patcher can more accurately respond to riders asking when their vehicle will arrive. This technology was identified as particularly useful for one of the participating rural DRT sys- tems that was experiencing overwhelming demand, with many riders calling to ask âWhereâs my ride?â. â¢ Monitor vehicle timeliness: With the AVL, dispatchers can monitor whether operators are running on schedule. One of the rural system reports that its dispatchers will contact an operator who is running late to find out the reasons. If necessary, trips that might have been Improving Performance 69 Reported Benefits of AVL and MDTs â¢ Dispatchers can âcontrolâ service in real-time, improving productivity â¢ Better management of vehicle operators and service â¢ Accurate response to âWhereâs my ride?â calls â¢ Monitoring of vehicle timeliness â¢ Reduction in vehicle no-show complaints â¢ Improvements to system safety
sent via the MDT to that operator can then be re-directed to another operator to maintain schedule adherence. â¢ Reduce vehicle no-show complaints: Paul Bunyan Transit uses its AVL data to review complaints from riders about a vehicle no-show. By reviewing stored AVL data, the rural system can check to see whether its vehicle was actually at the scheduled pick-up location at the scheduled time and whether it waited the full 3 min, according to system policy. This data typically shows that the vehicle was where it was supposed to be and waited the full 3 min. Similarly to a number of urban DRT systems from the first phase of the research project, this rural system has seen a noticeable decrease in complaints from riders about vehicles not showing up, with credit to the AVL technology. â¢ Improve system safety for riders and operators: When there are road calls or other incidents or emergencies, the DRT system can respond more quickly because it can pinpoint vehiclesâ location. This is particularly important when the system needs to direct emergency respon- ders to a vehicle. In a rural service area, it may be hard for an operator to know his precise location when traveling on a rural highway with few cross-streets or other reference points. After one of its vehicles had a mechanical failure on a return trip from an out-of-service area medical trip, one of the rural systems reported that its dispatcher was able to quickly re-direct another vehicle, relatively close by, to pick up the two riders aboard the first vehicle. This was possible because the dispatcher knew the locations of all the systemâs vehicles. Provide scheduled service to frequented destinations to improve productivity. Many of the rural DRT systems participating in the research reported scheduling policies and procedures that serve certain destinations or defined trips only at sched- uled times and often only on specific scheduled days. Impor- tantly, the scheduled service operates only if there is demand, typically arranged on an advance reservation basis. These prac- tices serve to group common trips at pre-determined times, providing more productive and efficient service. While there were numerous permutations on these policies and procedures as reported by the participating rural systems, the general prac- tice is particularly important in large, sparsely populated ser- vice areas, characteristics of many rural DRT systems. Based on the research, two main âthemesâ for the scheduled service practices emerged: first, there are services scheduled by geography, either for sub-areas within a larger service area or to out-of-service area destinations, and second, there are ser- vices scheduled by trip purpose, for example, shopping trips or medical trips. In both cases, the practices target frequented destinations. Variations on these two types of scheduled serviceâ sometimes referred to as fixed-schedule serviceâare identified below, as reported by the rural DRT systems. Specific perform- ance data resulting from the scheduling practices were not available, but it is clear that they lead to improved performance if the alternative is to serve such trips on a purely demand- response basis. Services scheduled by geography. Among other county- and multi-county-based rural systems participating in the research, B.C. Country Rural Dial-A-Ride serves outlying parts 70 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance ASHEBORO RESIDENTS â LOCAL MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS Mon â Fri â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦.8:30 AM - 2:00 PM RANDOLPH COUNTY RESIDENTS â LOCAL MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS Mon â Fri â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦9:00 AM - 12:00 Noon ASHEBORO AND RANDOLPH COUNTY RESIDENTS â OUT OF TOWN MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS Mon, Tues â Greensboro and High Pointâ¦â¦â¦â¦9:00 AM - 12:00 Noon Wed â Salisbury (VA Hospital) â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦9:00 AM - 12:00 Noon Th â Winston-Salem .â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦..9:00 AM - 12:00 Noon Fri â Durham ..â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦9:00 AM - 12:00 Noon Mon, Wed, Fri â ** Chapel Hillâ¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦.9:00 AM - 12:00 Noon
of its service areas only on certain specified days per week. The system ensures that each of its outlying communities is served at least twice per week, with the schedule providing for two trips into the countyâs urbanized area, in the morning and early afternoon, and two return trips, in the early and late afternoon, giving the rural riders a choice of travel times into the urbanized area on their particular service day. The trips are provided only on a request basis, so there is no service if no one calls; however, the rural systemâs dispatcher said, âWe always get calls.â The rural DRT system in Beltrami County, Minnesota, also serves some of its outlying com- munities only on a scheduled basis, with service to one of the distant communities provided just twice per month. To further improve productivity, this rural system requires a minimum of four passengers for each of its scheduled trips from the outlying communities; otherwise, the sched- uled trip will not operate. With this policy in place, riders will often group themselves in advance and then call to request the trip, now guaranteed to operate as long as the riders have created a group of four. Some of the rural systems also indicated that they serve longer-distance, out-of-service-area trips only on specified daysâagain, a strategy to try and create group trips and improve effi- ciency. In particular, this strategy often applies to out-of-service area medical trips. The RPC coordinated system in central Florida and RCATS in North Carolina, among others, travel to out-of-service-area destinations only on a set day per week. Services scheduled by trip purpose and destination. DRT service can also be scheduled by trip purpose and destination, again, to try and create group loads and improve productivity. This is commonly done with shopping tripsâfor example, a DRT system will schedule service to a particular grocery store every Tuesday and to a second grocery store every Thursday at pre- scheduled times. Riders call in advance to reserve space on the scheduled trip they desire. Medical trips are another common trip purpose for rural DRT systems, and, because some of these trips are longer distance and problems can be encountered with changing times for return trips, many of the participating rural DRT systems have developed policies and procedures just for medical trips. For example, as noted above, a number of the participating systems serve med- ical trips that are out of the service area only on specified days per week, and some specify that medical appointments should be made for morning hours only, allowing adequate time to pro- vide return trips. One of the system managers noted that doctorsâ offices do not always want to cooperate with the transit systemâs policy, but the policy remains firm. Even for within-service area medical trips, one of the participating rural systems asks its rid- ers to schedule all medical appointments, generally located in the countyâs largest community, between 10:30 A.M. and 11:30 A.M. With this policy, this DRT system can try and group trips going into the main community in the mid-to-late morning, and then group return trips back to the outlying communities. Given the large number of medical trips for rural DRT systems, other scheduling practices have evolved to try and improve the efficiency of such trips. For return trips from medical appointments, Valley Transit in Idaho, for example, schedules in advance its ridersâ return trips from medical appointments but calls the ridersâ medical office before sending the vehicle to check whether the appointment is running late. This allows the system to reschedule the return trip if needed, avoiding the situation where the DRT system has to send a second vehicle to pick up the rider because he was not ready when the first vehicle arrived at the advance scheduled time. Valley Transit also specifies that should any rider have follow-up medical appointments, the rider is to ask the medical office to schedule the follow-up appointments directly with the DRT system, helping to ensure that the transit system, with excess demand at times of the day, can meet the riderâs transportation needs for the next appointments. Improving Performance 71
As another permutation on scheduling for medical trips, two of the participating rural sys- tems note that they have opened up their longer-distance medical trips to riders with other trip purposes, increasing the ability to group trips and improve productivity. As one example, Mon- roe County Shared Ride opened its service to the Veterans Hospital for non-medical trip pur- poses when originally this out-of-service-area destination was served only for medical trips. This practice allows other riders to access the more urbanized area where the hospital is located and, from a performance perspective, improves the productivity of that service. Other Improvement Actions Provide immediate response service. While provision of immediate response service was not cited as a specific performance improvement action by any of the participating rural DRT systems, data from the systems indicate that the provision of immediate response/same-day ser- vice can benefit productivity, especially when the transit system has AVL. This is a strategy that is appropriate in smaller service areas. Performance improvements. The performance improvements were as follows: â¢ Productivity: Based on the performance data for the 23 rural DRT systems providing data for the research project, the average productivity for those systems operating as immediate response is 5.15 passengers per hour (5 systems), compared with an average productivity of 2.85 passengers per hour for those systems that are predominately advance reservation (18 systems). This is measured as passenger trips per vehicle-hour. Contributing to the higher productivities achieved by the rural systems that operate as immediate response include â Three of the immediate response systems operate predominately in small and compact geographic areas, where trips can be dispatched quickly and response times for riders are relatively short. â Two of the systems have AVL, which are used by the dispatchers to route vehicles effi- ciently, and passengersâ trips can be dispatched to operators in real time since the dispatch- ers know the location of each vehicle and can divert the closest vehicle for last minute pick- ups; this allows the systems to serve more passenger trips with their available capacity. It should be noted that the categorization of the systems between immediate response versus advance reservation is not completely discrete as the advance reservation systems all indicated that they provide, or at least will try to provide, some same-day service when capacity allows or when the passengerâs trip is deemed urgent. Additionally, all of the sys- tems, even those that provide immediate response/same-day service, provide some sub- scription service. This means that a portion of the service (often as much as 50% of total trips) is pre-booked and can be considered advanced reservation. Despite these qualifications, the data from the systems in the research project indicate that provision of immediate response service, within the appropriate service area and par- ticularly with the advantage of AVL, clearly benefits productivity. â¢ Fewer no-shows/late cancellations: Immediate response DRT systems also benefit from fewer no-shows and late cancellations than are typical with advance reservation DRT systems; this in turn benefits productivity. Rider no-shows, in particular, and late cancellations harm DRT performance, representing wasted DRT resources. Research conducted for the urban phase of this research project identified two urban DRT systems that documented specific productivity gains from reducing their respective no-show rates with focused enforcement. Among the limited number of rural systems participating in the rural phase of the research that operate as immediate response DRT, FCRTA in central California specifically noted that it has no problems with no-shows or late cancellations and does not even have a no-show policy. Riders call for a trip when they are ready to go, and the system is able to 72 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
provide service relatively quickly, except perhaps in heavy peak times. FCRTA service is provided within a number of small, single communities throughout the large rural county, which range in size from 1 to 7 sq. miles; DRT vehicles are generally based within each of the communities, facilitating short response times. Professionalize scheduling/dispatch function. Experienced and trained schedulers and dispatchers will help ensure effective and productive DRT service. This can be achieved by pro- viding wages and benefits that attract and retain quality staff and minimize turnover. Training should also be available. Specific training for operating staff, including schedulers and dispatch- ers, is often available through RTAP programs either at the state level, through a regional RTAP consortium (such as the Mid-Atlantic RTAP), or both. The National Transit Institute, among others, offers a course in paratransit scheduling and dispatching fundamentals. Sometimes at smaller systems, schedulers and dispatchers are promoted from operator posi- tions, providing them relevant experience from the operator perspective. Training, however, par- ticularly in scheduling, should be provided that will enhance the individualsâ ability to develop effective schedules for the system. Effective dispatchers also must have supervisory capabilities and skills as well as the ability to multi-task. Maximize provision of subscription trips. Subscription trips can benefit DRT operations and help achieve improved productivity in several ways. Since the trips are repetitive and known in advance, schedulers can focus on them and work to continually improve and tighten their fit onto runs so that additional trips can be accommodated on the runs. Scheduling can also be streamlined: the call-taker does not have to spend time taking calls for these trips since the pas- sengers do not call in for each trip. Further, passengers on subscription trips may work together to improve serviceâfor example, passengers may use peer pressure on another whose habits inconvenience the other riders and delay operations (e.g., a rider who is habitually not ready to board when the vehicle arrives, inconveniencing the other passengers, may be âspoken toâ by his peers). DRT systems should establish procedures so that passengers with repetitive trips, even once-a-week trips, schedule these trips on a subscription basis. Review, refine, and tighten subscription trips on a periodic basis. Importantly, however, the DRT scheduler must review all subscription trips on a regular basis to tighten the runs and ensure maximum productivity. In this way, the DRT system will realize the benefits of subscription trips. At the same time, the scheduler should attempt to maintain some stability in the runs, to take advantage of operatorsâ experience with their runs. Accept âwill-callsâ judiciously. A will-call is a DRT trip that is not scheduled in advance, but rather the rider âwill callâ when she is ready to be picked up. The DRT system then fits in the trip as best it can. Essentially, a will-call is an immediate response trip. Will-calls are typically trips that may be difficult to schedule in advance, such as return trips from doctorsâ appointments. For DRT systems that operate as advance reservation, will- calls can be an effective approach to serving trips where riders have limited control over their pick-up time. If riders schedule such return trips in advance, they may end up as âno showsâ because their appointments are not yet completed when the vehicle arrives for the trip home. In such case, the DRT system Improving Performance 73
must then schedule another trip to get the rider home, which results in two trips. It may be more cost-effective to schedule such return trips as will-calls. However, if a DRT system accepts too many will-calls, it may be difficult to fit the trips in with the prescheduled trips, and this may harm productivity. Thus, a balance is needed for DRT sys- tems that accept will-calls. Achieving that balance may depend on some trial and errorâin other words, experience. Obtain vehicle operator input on schedules on a periodic basis. The DRT system should provide an opportunity for the schedulers and dispatchers to meet with vehicle operators on a periodic basis to discuss scheduling practices and gain the insights and experience that the oper- ators obtain each service day. This on-the-street understanding will give schedulers and dispatch- ers a realistic assessment of the systemâs scheduling practices and may provide information that could improve scheduling. Service Design While the research project did not focus on service design options, several of the participat- ing rural systems specifically identified service design changes that benefited their performance. Improvement Actions Reported by Participating Rural Systems Ensure service design âfitsâ community, revise as appropriate. Rural transit systems must ensure that their service design model fits their community needs in terms of land use, develop- ment patterns, and ridership demand and use patterns. While a rural transit system may imple- ment a certain design model, the system should evaluate this over time to assess how well the particular service model meets the communityâs conditions and ridership. Three of the rural sys- tems participating in the research revised their original transit design to service models that were more appropriate for the communityâs transit needs, with performance improvements. Change route deviation to demand-response. Two of the rural systems participating in the research changed route deviation service (also referred to as flex-route) to demand-response, with productivity improvements. Pulaski Area Transit, a small community-based system in Virginia, had a productivity of 4.9 passengers per hour with its route deviation. After 1 year of operation, the service was changed to demand-response and achieved a productivity of 7.0 over 12 months, serving a broader range of riders than with the route deviation, including more general public pas- sengers as well as children who are transported to and from before- and after-school daycare. ICPTA, a multi-county system in North Carolina, had operated a route deviation service in its largest community, with a productivity of approximately 1.6. When the system converted this service to traditional demand-response, productivity improved to an estimated 3.0 passenger trips per hour. In both cases, the rural system managers determined that their communityâs land use and development patterns as well as the ridership on route deviation might be better served with the greater flexibility provided by demand-response. Change demand-response to route deviation. Another rural system participating in the research changed part of its demand-response service to route deviation, designing two routes after analyzing ridership patterns and concentrations of pick-ups and drop-offs. This small cityâs deviated routes link senior housing facilities as well as a high school and community college with Wal-Mart and a local mall, achieving a combined productivity of 7.7 passenger trips per vehicle- hour. This can be contrasted to the productivity of the systemâs demand-response service of 2.96. 74 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
Use volunteers for long-distance one-on-one trips. If a rural DRT system has a volunteer driver component, use of volunteers for long-distance single-passenger trips can be a cost-efficient strategy. Otherwise, such trips can require a vehicle and operator for a significant portion of the service day. One of the participating rural systems uses its volunteer drivers to provide medical trips to a medical facility in a neighboring state, a trip that can be more than 100 miles one way. Based on FY2007 data, these long-distance one-way trips cost the rural transit system $37.45 on average for mileage reimbursement for the volunteer drivers. If an additional estimated 15% is added for administration of the volunteer program, the average trip cost is estimated at $43.07. If those trips were provided by the transit system, it is estimated that, based on the systemâs oper- ating cost per vehicle mile, each one-way trip would cost $215, about five times the cost through the volunteer driver program. Coordinate separate, neighboring DRT services. One of the participating rural DRT systems is a composite of two formerly separate systems. Paul Bunyan Transit in Beltrami County, Minnesota, was formed with the merger of the county DRT system and a separate DRT system serving the largest com- munity in the county. With the coordination, there emerged a more focused and efficient transit system. Before the merger, annual ridership data on the two separate systems fluctuated up and down year to year; after the merger, ridership increased annually over the next 3 years, indicating a more stable and focused operation. The cost per hour and cost per mile data decreased slightly after the merger, while before, the cost per hour and per mile indicators had trended upwards, sometimes by more than 10% annually. Use rural DRT as feeder service to rural intercity routes. FCRTA has structured its rural services so that vehicles are assigned to provide local DRT service within the various smaller com- munities in the large, nearly 6,000-sq. mile service area and also to connect with the agencyâs rural intercity routes, which link the smaller communities to the Fresno-Clovis urbanized area. In this way, the small communities have all-day coverage for local trip needs, while long distance trip needs are met with the intercity routes. If the DRT vehicles were assigned also to operate the inter- city service, the communities would lose some of their local intra-community demand-response service since the vehicles would be otherwise engaged running the longer-distance routes. Policies and Procedures Policies and procedures help structure DRT service and its daily operations. Those that affect riders need to be clearly articulated and publicized for the riders so that they, and the commu- nity organizations with which many riders are affiliated, understand how the DRT system works and what their responsibilities are for service provision. DRT service operates more smoothly and, from a performance perspective, more productively when both the DRT staff and the riders that are served understand and follow the system policies and procedures. Improvement Actions Reported by Participating Rural Systems Adopt and enforce no-show policy. DRT systems, particularly those that operate as advance reservation, invariably have some level of no-shows and late cancellations. No-shows, in partic- ular, have a negative impact on performance. When a rider fails to show up for a scheduled trip or cancels at the door, the DRT system has wasted a DRT trip, harming productivity. No-shows can also have a detrimental effect on on-time performance when an operator waits at a scheduled Improving Performance 75
pick-up location beyond the DRT systemâs stated wait time because subsequent trips on the operatorâs schedule may then be late. No-shows additionally inconvenience other riders who might be on-board the vehicle when a no-show occurs; these riders have wasted their time wait- ing at the pick-up location of the no-show rider and may have had a more direct and timely trip had the no-show trip been cancelled with adequate notice. Late cancellations may have the same negative effect as a no-show, depending on when the cancellation is made. If late cancellations are a problem for a DRT system, it is important for the system to include late cancels in its no-show policy. This includes specifically defining a late can- cellationâthe point at which a cancellation becomes so late that it is difficult or not possible for the system to reuse the capacity freed up by the cancelled trip. While rural DRT systems generally seem to have less of a problem with no-shows and late can- cellations than do urban systems, it is important to develop policies to address no-shows and late cancellations as well. While it is often a small subset of the riders who frequently abuse the poli- cies, enforcement is also important. Performance improvements. The following improvement was reported: â¢ Reduced no-shows: Several of the participating rural systems noted performance benefits from enforcement of their no-show policies (see Table 7-3). While the policies vary, the managers spoke to the critical role of enforcement: it is not enough to just adopt and publish a policy. Develop and enforce a cancellation policy. While cancellations do not have the same neg- ative consequence on DRT performance as no-shows or late cancellations, they do have an impact, particularly when cancellations become excessive. When riders book trips and the trips are placed on vehicle schedules, they occupy space on the DRT system. Subsequent trip requests are then placed around those trips, and this can impact the times scheduled for those riders with subsequent requests. It may even impact the availability of a trip for riders with subsequent requests. When scheduled trips are later cancelled, they become âholesâ in the schedule. Some of those âholesâ will be re-filled with trip requests made later so that the capacity is re-used. How- ever, the process of trip-taking, scheduling, and then canceling trips takes staff time; when there are many cancellations, this has to be seen as detrimental to DRT performance. 76 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance No-Show Policy Performance Effects Policy of multi-county rural system states: if 3 no-shows within a 2-month period, rider can be suspended for 1 week. Rider must pay for each no-show trip. If rider exceeds $50 in unpaid no-shows, service is suspended until fares are paid. Policy strictly enforced starting in FY07. No-show rate decreased from more than 15% to 1% after enforcement. Policy of rural county-based system requires trips to be cancelled at least 1 hour before the scheduled trip; 3 no-shows in a 30-day period may result in service suspension. Enforcement of policy implemented in 2000 has decreased no-shows by one-half, from an estimated 4% of trips to 2%. Multi-county systemâs policy states that trips must be cancelled 24 hrs before trip pick-up time or by 4:00 P.M. the day prior to trip. If trip is not cancelled and rider does not appear for trip, it is counted as a no-show. Three no-shows in a 60- day period may result in suspension of service. System began strict enforcement with suspensions given to a small number of frequent offenders. No-show rates decreased: FY05 3.7% FY06 2.8% FY07 2.6% Two-county rural system with about 60% subscription riders, many from human service agencies, states in âRiders Guideâ that âexcessive no-shows may result in suspension of service.â A cancellation less than 2 hours before pick-up is counted as a no-show, unless dispatch can re-route the vehicle. Human service agencies charged the fare when one of their clients/riders no- shows, a practice that gets the attention of and help from the agency in dealing with the offending rider. No-shows are not seen as a major problem, at 1% or less of total scheduled trips. Table 7-3. Experience with no-show policy enforcement.
One of the participating rural systems has developed a policy to combat excessive cancella- tions, in addition to its policy for no-shows and late cancellations. This county-based system found that many riders were booking trips as âback-upâ in case their preferred transportation plans fell through. When these riders found they did not need their scheduled DRT trips, they cancelled, and this became increasingly time-consuming for the DRT staff. To address this, the DRT system adopted a policy that states that riders who cancel more than 30% of their sched- uled trips in a 1-month period may be suspended from service for 1 month. The DRT system indicates that it has had to enforce this policy only infrequently as it sends a warning letter to offenders prior to any suspension and works with riders when there are medical or other miti- gating reasons for the cancellations. Another approach to excessive cancellations is to reduce the advance reservation time period. This was not articulated by any of the rural DRT systems participating in the research as a per- formance action, but was commonly cited by urban DRT systems in the first phase of the research and is discussed below. Other Improvement Actions In addition to the improvement actions identified by the rural DRT systems in the research project, there are other policies and procedures that may help improve performance. Shorten advance reservation period to reduce trip cancellations. Reducing the advance reservation window for DRT service was a strategy that a number of DRT systems participating in the urban phase of the research have taken, with positive results in terms of reducing the num- ber of cancellations. One system also saw a small decrease in the number of no-shows. When advance reservation periods are lengthy, riders may book trips weeks in advance and then find their trip needs change over that time period. With shorter advance notice time peri- ods, riders should be more sure of their plans when they book their DRT trips and less likely to cancel. There may even be fewer no-shows as riders may be less likely to forget a scheduled trip with a shorter time period between booking and taking a trip. Many systems, rural and urban, use a 14-day advance reservation window for scheduling trips. This was the time period required for ADA complementary paratransit systems by the ADA reg- ulations when first promulgated in 1991. However, through amendments made in 1996, this requirement was changed and now ADA paratransit systems are required to accept trips, at a min- imum, on a next-day basis; no longer is there a requirement to accept trips 14 days or even 2 or 3 days in advance.1 The longer time period allowed for riders to make trip reservations was believed to contribute to both additional calls for canceling and rescheduling trips during that 2-week time period as well as to result in additional no-shows or same-day cancellations because riders had forgotten their trips booked two weeks ago or had last minute changes to their travel plans (33). Many rural DRT systems do not provide any ADA paratransit service. Despite this, a 14-day advance reservation window is the most common pol- icy based on the rural systems in the research project (see Table 7-4). While some of the systems indicated that riders do not always begin booking trips as far in advance as the policy allows, others noted that trip times and avail- ability are more open the farther out that riders book. Of the 16 rural sys- tems participating in the research that have formal advance reservation time periods, 9 use a 14-day advance reservation window. Improving Performance 77 1 Should an ADA paratransit system change its advance reservation scheduling window, it must ensure public input and participation in developing changes, in keeping with ADA regulations. Length of Advance Reservation Time Period No. of Systems 3 business days 1 7 days 3 14 days 9 30 days 3 Table 7-4. Advance reservation windows used by rural systems in research project.
To the extent that a rural system has excess cancellations, shortening the window can be an effective approach. Based on the urban phase of the research project, urban DRT systems that reduced their windows indicated that the action was beneficial, reducing cancellations and the staff time and effort needed to handle them. One system, for example, which reduced its 14-day advance reservation window to 7, saw a reduction in its cancellations from 22% of trip reserva- tions to 18%, with the reduction happening in the first month of the change. Establish on-time pick-up window. While rural DRT systems are less likely to formally measure the timeliness of their pick-ups (or their drop-offs) than their urban counterparts, many rural systems have established pick-up time windows or policies for their riders. Of the rural systems participating in the research, 14 have defined policies for âon-timeâ DRT service, with 12 having established âwindowsâ of on-time (see Table 7-5). The remaining systems either do not have defined policies on DRT timeliness or operate as immediate response. At least two of the latter systems informally mea- sure the response time for their service, which is the time difference, in minutes, between when the rider calls for service and when the vehicle arrives. It is noted that there is no one measure of on-time that is appropriate for all DRT systems. The length of the on-time window should be set based on DRT system policies and other local and service area conditions. A 30-min on-time windowâtypically oper- ationalized as 15 min before the scheduled pick-up time to 15 min afterâis the most common on-time window for urban DRT systems and, based on the rural systems participating in the research project, also the most common for rural systems that define a window. While the majority of the participating rural DRT systems have defined âon-timeâ for their service, only one of these systems formally reports its on-time trip percentage on a routine basis. Trip timeliness is perhaps the most important single measure of service quality from a DRT riderâs perspective. DRT managers typically have an informed sense of how timely their ser- vice is, and, if there is a complaint about a late trip, typically the operatorâs manifest can be checked to assess the trip specifics. However, a formal process for monitoring DRT timeli- ness would provide the system with routine data for measuring this aspect of DRT service quality. This Guidebook suggests that rural DRT systems should measure and report their on-time data, at least on a sampling basis. Chapter 4 of the Guidebook provides suggestions on data col- lection and performance measure calculation for on-time performance. Establish wait time policy. In addition to a policy for an on-time window, DRT systems should establish a wait time policy, defining how long the DRT vehicle will wait for a passenger at the pick-up location. Such a policy is important as it provides a defined time period, after which the vehicle may depart for the next location on its schedule. Waiting for excess amounts of time for riders at pick-up locations unnecessarily delays the vehicle, inconveniences other pas- sengers who might be on the vehicle, and adds to unproductive time for the DRT system, which will negatively affect performance. A defined wait time policy is also important for enforcing a no-show policy. With estab- lishment and articulation of the wait time policy to riders, the DRT system makes clear the time period after which a rider may become a no-show. Waiting excess amounts of time for a rider who then is a no-show, again, unnecessarily delays the vehicle and negatively affects performance. 78 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance On-Time Definition No. of Systems On-time if reach destination by promised time 2 10-min window 1 15-min window 2 20-min window 1 30-min window 6 1-hr window: +/â 30 min. + 45 min. / â15 min. 1 1 Table 7-5. On-time definitions used by rural systems participating in research project.
Of the rural systems participating in the research project, most have defined wait times for passengers at pick-up locations. The most typical is 5 min, although some use 3 min. One of the systems that is predominately immediate response service noted that it is considering going to a 2-min wait time. Interestingly, a few systems stated that their wait time is â3 to 5 minutes.â From a policy perspective as well as an operational perspective, it is better to state only one time, providing a uniform and standard time that can be used by vehicle operators and dispatchers as well as riders. Establish policies and procedures for bad weather operations. DRT systems must ensure that they have well-articulated procedures in place for operations in bad weatherâ for example, during snowy and icy weatherâto minimize the potential for accidents due to poor road conditions or passenger accidents from icy walkways. Operators need to be trained and continuously retrained during the appropriate seasons about the particular policies and procedures. These policies and procedures also need to be explained to riders and, as appropriate, to the human service agencies with which they are affiliated. This allows the riders and agencies to better plan trips during bad weather seasons, including, for example, if bad weather impacts trips mid-day before ridersâ return trips home have been completed. Educate riders on policies and procedures. Educating DRT riders on how to use the demand-response transportation service can be a strategy that helps riders use the DRT system more effectively and responsibly. While DRT systems typically have training and re-training programs for their staff, systems may neglect this function for their rid- ers and the agencies that serve them. Riders who are well educated and knowledge- able about the policies and procedures of the system can contribute significantly to a well-functioning system. Education programs can be targeted to all riders or to specific groups of riders (e.g., subscription riders or riders traveling for certain trip purposes such as dialy- sis) as well as to the various human service and other agencies whose clients use the DRT system. One of the urban DRT systems participating in the first phase of the research project found that its average dwell time at pick-up locations decreased measurably after its formal education campaign, which reinforced to riders that âyou need to be ready to leave at the start of your on-time window.â Importantly, educating riders should not be seen as a one-time effort. It must be something that is sustained and repeated on a periodic basis, both to reinforce the information to long-time riders and to make it available to new riders. Education efforts for riders should be complemented with efforts to educate vehicle operators and other DRT staff as well, so staff understands what is expected of them and what is expected of the riders. Given the interdependency between riders and DRT staff and particularly vehicle operators, such education efforts can improve the func- tioning of the DRT system and its performance. Since riders of rural DRT systems are frequently clients of human service agen- cies that have arrangements with the DRT system, it is also important that the DRT system educate staff at those agencies on the policies and procedures of the trans- portation service. In this way, the human service agency staff understands what the DRT system can, and cannot, do. The agency sponsors can also then help their clients as appropriate with transportation issues and more importantly resolve issues that might arise with the DRT system. This has been the experience reported Improving Performance 79
by one of the rural systems included in the research project in relation to no-shows. This transit system works with its sponsoring human service agencies when one of the agency clients has excessive no-shows, addressing issues or problems that the particular rider might be having. This transit system also charges the local agency the fares for any no-show trips incurred by its clients so that the agency shares with its riders the responsibility for following the systemâs policies and procedures. Funding The issue of funding for DRT received significantly more attention during the rural phase of the research project than during the urban phase. Managers of the rural systems participating in the project frequently singled out strategies that they had taken to secure funding and specifi- cally local funding. According to 2007 Rural NTD data, collectively the countryâs rural systems (with over 1,300 systems reporting) spent somewhat over $1 billion for annual operating expenses. Operating subsidies to support these systems came from the federal government, composing 34% of total operating subsidies, from state governments at 25%, and from the local level at 40%. Funds from the local level are the largest single share of operating subsidies and are clearly important for rural transit systems, particularly where state support is limited. Improvement Actions Reported by Participating Rural Systems Get involved in the community, build relationships, and gain funding. Managers of sev- eral of the participating rural systems described active and purposeful involvement in their com- munities, which has led to partnerships or agreements with local governments and businesses that result in financial support for the transit system. PAT, a primarily-municipal system in Vir- ginia, for example, spends concerted effort to get involved in the community. The manager belongs to the Chamber of Commerce, visits new businesses that come to the community, par- ticipates in local events often with one of the transit vehicles, and develops brochures and hand- outs that showcase his transit system. This material includes data on ridership specifically to major destinations served by transit such as the hospital, community college, and a large retailer, which the manager then shows to those specific entitiesâevidence of the transit systemâs role in bringing passengers to those destinations. In addition to significant local funding from the city and county (which provided 24% of total operating revenue for FY07), PAT has received fund- ing from local businesses. This includes a considerable contribution from the local Wal-Mart that funded Saturday service for a number of Saturdays (the system operates weekdays only) as well as $50 from a local fast food restaurantâa very small amount but meaningful in that the small business even considered support for local transit. The manager of a rural system in Maryland, GTS, has spent concerted efforts to build rela- tionships with local county leaders, communicating the transit systemâs important role in the county. These efforts helped secure a significant funding commitment from the county, which was the first time the county had funded public transit. These funds were used as match for seven new vehicles, an important performance improvement strategy when many vehicles in the 30+ vehicle fleet were miles beyond their useful life. Funding from the county has continued, now contributing about 17% to the total operating budget. Another participating rural system, Moscow Valley Dial-A-Ride and Paratransit, specifically cites strong community involvement as helping the transit system generate in-kind and local match funding support. For example, the local match for one of the systemâs recent vehicle pur- chases was provided in full by a local medical center. This contribution was acknowledged on the side of the vehicle, giving the medical center credit for its support. The local match for a sec- 80 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
ond vehicle was funded by a local community foundation and a private individual who owns local rental properties as well as by the city. Their contributions were also acknowledged on the side of the vehicle. In Pierre, South Dakota, all staff members of River Cities Public Transit are encouraged to be involved in the community in a professional capacity as well as in their personal lives. Relation- ships are developed, trust is built, and awareness is raised through this involvement, strengthen- ing the standing of the system in the community and supporting its coordination efforts. Interestingly, active involvement in the community by transit managers in rural and small urban communities has been found in prior research to be one of a number of characteristics of the more innovative small transit systems (34). This active involvement was found to include a variety of approaches such as membership in the Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations, frequent communication of the transit systemâs achievements at local events and forums, efforts to seek out and respond to community transit needs with new transit services, and having an entrepreneurial orientationâall of which helped the transit system to gain visi- bility and support throughout the community and to secure local funding commitments. Establish effective payment schemes for human service agency clients/riders. Providing transportation for clients of local human service agencies is a common practice for rural DRT systems. Such transportation can be provided through formal contract agreements or more informal arrangements. The rural system must ensure, however, that the mechanism for paying for that transportation is workable and effective from the transit systemâs perspective. A number of the smaller rural systems have arrangements so that the agency riders use tick- ets or punch cards for trip payment, with the agencies purchasing the fare media directly from the transit system and then providing that to their clients, either at the full or discounted price. As another approach, one of the participating rural systems invoices each of the human service agencies for which it provides service a flat rate per month per client. Previously, the transit sys- tem invoiced for individual trips, but the administrative time required for individual client trip tracking and invoicing was burdensome, and the transit system changed to the monthly flat rate per client scheme. Another rural system found its invoicing practices difficult until it imple- mented a CASD, which greatly facilitated the monthly billing procedures for contracting human service agencies and also reportedly made it more accurate. This county-based rural system gen- erates about $4,000 monthly in passenger fares from riders sponsored by the local department of social services. Sell advertisements on vehicles. Several of the participat- ing rural systems sell bus wraps, either window or side wraps. Albert Lea Transit, a four-vehicle rural system in Minnesota, generates about $5,000 in advertising revenues from bus win- dow wraps. This is a way for local businesses, which are report- edly supportive of local transit, to contribute to its operating costs. This system has also negotiated an advertisement trade with the local radio station, which is worth about $6,500 per year. The transit system places ads for the station on its vehicle exteriors in exchange for free advertising on the radio. Bay Transit in Virginia generates about $5,000 annually in ads placed on the back of some of its vehicles. While the transit sys- tems acknowledged that the âtraveling billboardsâ do not gen- erate significant amounts of funds, all sources are important where funding is a perennial concern. Improving Performance 81
One of the participating systems noted that it did get a few concerned comments from the community as several callers complained that riders could not see out of the bus windows that were wrapped. Perhaps ironically, these were not riders of the system, as the wraps do not obscure visibility for the riders. But this may be an issue to address with the community at the outset if a system is introducing bus wraps. Marketing, Public Relations, and Passenger Relations Transit marketing and public relations are sometimes considered to be just advertising and promotion for the service. Yet, a comprehensive marketing program can do more than just attract new passengersâit can also create community support for the transit system, helping to ensure that public transit is seen as a beneficial community service, which then helps secure local funding for the transit system. In this way, then, one of the management actions described ear- lier by rural systems participating in the researchâto get involved in the community, build rela- tionships, gain fundingâcan also be considered marketing. However, managers of participat- ing rural systems specifically linked that action to funding, so it is included under that heading. Nonetheless, it is clear that a transit systemâs involvement and participation in the communityâ through membership in local civic organizations, speaking engagements, participation at local community events, and so forthâare also part of marketing and public relations. Beyond involvement in the community to build support for rural transit, there are other actions iden- tified by rural DRT systems that participated in the research. Improvement Actions Reported by Participating Rural Systems Focus marketing efforts on the general public. Many rural transit systems are provided by senior service or other human service agencies and, in some cases, their transit ser- vices originated as specialized services for seniors or other spe- cialized rider groups. The general public may not realize that the transit service is open to all riders. Several of the participating systems reported that they devel- oped specific marketing efforts targeted to the general public, advertising the fact that their transit services are for everyone in the community. These efforts included designing and plac- ing decals on the vehicles advertising that the transit service is âopen for all riders,â distributing flyers and writing press releases that clearly state that service is open to everyone in the community, and ensuring that system brochures and other rider informational pieces stress that the service is open for all members of the community. Advertise with campaign/yard signs. One of the rural sys- tems designed and purchased a large number of âcampaignâ or âyardâ signs, 18 x 24 in. corrugated plastic board signs with wire stakes for inserting the signs into the ground. These were placed alongside the rural roadways in the systemâs service area, advertising âAnyone Can Ride Anywhere for $3.00â in the listed five counties. This advertising campaign was highly suc- cessful, with ridership increasing more than 10% the following 82 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
month. Phone calls to the transit system also increased significantly, with many new callers ask- ing about the service. It should be noted that some governments restrict these signs from high- way rights-of-way under their jurisdiction for safety reasons. Identify âpoint personâ at human service agencies to help address rider issues. VTA in Dukes County, Massachusetts, reported the importance of identifying and building a coopera- tive relationship with one key person at each of the local human service agencies which the DRT system serves to help resolve rider-related issues. When there are issues with a specific rider that impact DRT service (e.g., the riderâs wheelchair has safety problems or a rider seems uncharac- teristically disoriented), the transit system can work with that agency individual to cooperatively address the problem. In this way, the transit system can leverage help in dealing with issues of its riders that impact transportation operations. For most rural DRT systems, many riders are clients of local human service agencies or are affiliated with an agency. Often the riders are elderly and they may not have family close by. In some cases, the rural system has evolved from an agency-operated service that was as much social service as transportation. Thus, many rural transit systems find that they must address more than just transportation for their riders. By building a cooperative relationship with a key person at the various human service agen- cies at the front end, the rural transit system can greatly facilitate addressing the social serviceârelated aspects that can rise for its riders. When this âpoint personâ can help the rider with a safer mobility device or address new behavior issues that a DRT driver might observe, the DRT service will operate more efficiently and effectively. Maintenance and Vehicles Improvement Actions Reported By Participating Rural Systems Ensure effective preventive maintenance practices. Main- tenance costs may consume roughly from 15% to 20% of a transit agencyâs operating budget, depending on a variety of factors. Costs for the maintenance function may be controlled, in part, by having an effective and thorough preventive main- tenance (PM) program. The PM program should be developed in accordance to the type of vehicles that the DRT system oper- ates. Performance of systematic, regularly scheduled mainte- nance at specified intervals will minimize breakdowns, road calls, and unscheduled maintenance problemsâevents that increase operating costs and affect performance. While none of the participating rural transit systems spoke specifically of the role that PM plays in their system performance, it is clearly important and the cornerstone of an effective maintenance program, which will benefit performance by helping to control costs and service interruptions. Ensure effective mix of DRT vehicles. Having a fleet of different types of vehicles may pro- vide some performance benefits, with impacts on operating and maintenance costs. Larger vehi- cles (e.g., 24-ft cutaway) will be more expensive to operate and maintain than the smaller para- transit vehicles (e.g., raised-roof van) because of both increased maintenance cost and increased fuel expense (35), but they provide more flexibility in terms of group loads. Smaller vehicles, including vans and sedans, are less expensive to operate and maintain and may be effective for Improving Performance 83
much of the DRT systemâs service. Having a substantial number of accessible vehicles in the fleet will allow for greater flexibility in scheduling trips for riders who use mobility aids or otherwise need the use of a lift. Many DRT systems use a mix of vehicle sizes and types to maximize cost-effectiveness in deal- ing with spatial and temporal variations in demand and ridership. Recent research has assessed DRT fleet size and mix from a theoretical perspective and suggests a modeling approach to deter- mine the most effective mix, but recognizes that the approach is still very preliminary and that research into current mixed fleet practices would benefit the industry (36). One of the participating systems that operates in a large multi-county region reported use of a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. According to this system, this vehicle, commonly used by delivery services, is well-suited for smaller passenger loads traveling long distances. The savings on fuel have been significant, with the new vehicles costing one-third to fuel compared with more standard paratransit cut-away vehicles. Safety The participating rural systems did not frequently discuss safety in direct relation to perfor- mance improvements although several systems noted that they believed their vehicle operator training programs were comprehensive and contributed to a safer operating environment and fewer accidents. One system noted that it has provided the CTAA PASS program (a driver cer- tification program) to its operators, offered through the systemâs state transit association, in addition to training to obtain CDLs. The transit manager credits these training programs with reduced insurance costs as well as fewer accidents and no wheelchair passengerârelated incidents. Improvement Actions Reported by Participating Rural Systems Monitor incident and accident trends. DRT management should review and monitor inci- dents and accidents to look for commonalties or trends. For example, there may be certain loca- tions with a higher than average accident rate, or there may be accidents resulting from the vehi- cle type or design (e.g., vehicle steps on a certain type of vehicle result in a relatively high number of passenger falls/injuries), or there may be certain operators that have had a disproportionate share of incidents or accidents. Such review and assessment are important in the effort to reduce unsafe or potentially unsafe occurrences. Accidents have a clear toll on a DRT system, often beyond the financial impacts. Hill Country Transit District in Texas has developed a comprehensive approach to safety. In addition to a 3-week training program and annual refresher training for operators, the rural sys- tem has a thorough accident investigation process. A supervisor trained in accident investigation goes to each accident site with a camera and accident forms to collect data on the incident. This information is assessed in conjunction with an accident review committee which, among other responsibilities, determines fault, mitigating circumstances, and safety of the particular location. Involve operators in a safety committee. A DRT system might consider establishing a safety committee that includes vehicle operator representatives as well as supervisors and representa- tives from maintenance. Such a committee should be tasked with reviewing all accidents to assess their preventability/non-preventability and with considering actions as appropriate to address the accidents and strategies to prevent them. A safety committee provides an ongoing mecha- nism to help review and assess accidents and also gives the employees and particularly vehicle operators some âownershipâ over the systemâs safety record. Hill Country Transit Districtâs accident review committee, part of its comprehensive approach to safety, is composed of the system manager, the fleet manager, the operator involved in the 84 Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance
accident, that operatorâs supervisor, and another operator. After a determination of fault is made, the committee without the two operators determines the discipline that may be needed. With its comprehensive approach, the rural system, operating in a large multi-county service area with close to 50 vehicles in peak service, has seen its accidents decrease from an annual aver- age of nine from 2005 to 2007 to none in 2008. Reward safe operators. Many transit systems including DRT systems have established an incentive/reward program that recognizes operators with safe driving records. This specifically rewards individual safe operators and also provides appropriate role models for other operators. In addition to awards such as gift certificates or similar items, a âwinningâ operator might be offered the opportunity to compete in a regional or state bus roadeo, where bus operators com- pete against each other in various skill areas related to passenger service. Establish a âculture of safety.â Transit systems may improve their safety record by estab- lishing an agencywide commitment to safety, with a continuing strong focus on safe operations through various ways. These include establishing a safety committee, developing system objec- tives tied to accident reduction, giving awards to safe drivers, providing daily safety announce- ments, and continually reinforcing the importance of safe operations. Improving Performance 85