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The intent of this chapter is to guide local agencies through the process of implementing new flexible public transportation services. There are numerous reasons why a community or agency chooses to operate flexible public transportation services. Based on this research effort, three operating environments were identified as good candidates for flexible public transportation services. They are all rural areas, small urban cities, and selected applications in urban and sub- urban areas. While communities operate different types of services for different reasons, there are some gen- erally shared circumstances and related operational responses. Often, fiscal constraints, geographic challenges, and ridership behavior patterns influence the public transportation mix in any locale. Some reasons for considering flexible public transportation services are the following: â¢ Improving productivity for general public demand-responsive systems â¢ Serving special needs populations (ranging from senior citizens to students) â¢ Replacing all or some fixed routes with flexible public transportation service to reduce or eliminate the need for complementary ADA paratransit service â¢ Providing limited employment transportation such as Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) â¢ Providing connections to other public transportation services in the area â¢ Providing basic mobility and travel options when demand is low â¢ Introducing public transportation to new areas and/or new users Prior to undertaking the implementation of new flexible public transportation services, it is necessary to take the following key steps, which will be described in this chapter: â¢ Analyze existing conditions â¢ Obtain input from policymakers and the community â¢ Plan and schedule flexible public transportation services â¢ Determine capital needsâvehicles and technology â¢ Understand the costs â¢ Market the new service 3.1 Analyzing Existing ConditionsâWhat Data Should I Review? Implementing flexible public transportation services in an existing public transportation oper- ation requires an understanding of the agencyâs existing conditions. These issues vary according to the type of service currently provided by the agency and the area to be served by the flexible public transportation service. In all cases, drivers and supervisors should be involved with planners and management in analyzing existing conditions and considering options. These employees are 31 C H A P T E R 3 Implementing New Flexible Public Transportation Services
closest to the customers and the operating environment and can offer valuable advice. Further, drivers and supervisors need to buy-in to the change since they will be ultimately responsible for delivering the new service. Rural Areas Agencies that serve rural areas of extremely low density (up to 500 persons per square mile) should review and understand the following data when considering flexible public transportation: â¢ Population density â¢ Senior citizen density â¢ Youth density â¢ Low-income and/or subsidized housing â¢ Senior citizen housing â¢ Trip destination locations (e.g., discount stores, hospitals, senior citizen centers, and activity centers for persons with disabilities) â¢ Trip purpose Public transportation in rural areas usually serves the most transit-dependent populations. When the service is general public demand-responsive service, the agency operates service based on demand and groups trips together on a daily basis; there is little need to understand the demo- graphics of the service area. Since flexible public transportation service must contain some type of schedule and time, the agency must take steps to understand as much as possible about the loca- tions of potential riders. Since senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and youth have the high- est potential to be users of flexible public transportation service, transportation providers need to know where members of these groups live and where they want to travel. By plotting population densities, e.g., concentrations of people in a given area, it is easy to predict where most trips will originate. Many rural areas can look to their regional planning organizations to provide these data. These regional planning organizations often help to facilitate locally coordinated transportation plans that are used to prioritize federal funding for transportation. Population density data are most useful when socioeconomic characteristics such as age and income are considered. An agency that is already operating demand-responsive service should examine trip patterns during a 6-month period to identify common destinations. If riders frequent a transportation generatorâsuch as Walmart, a hospital (for non-emergency trips), or a senior citizen nutrition programâit may be more cost-effective to create a flexible public transportation service route to serve the hospital twice each week, instead of making that trip every day for fewer passengers. A possible guideline is to consider any destination that generates over five individual trips per week as a candidate for a flexible public transportation service route. The next step would be to determine whether the origination point is conducive to grouping the trips in a scheduled flexible public transportation service zone route. The operation and routing of service by South Central Adult Services (described in Chapter 4) in North Dakota is a good example of this type of service. Other agencies operate one or two fixed routes in rural areas in relatively close proximity to a CBD where many services and shops are located. These agencies are therefore required to oper- ate complementary ADA paratransit. When considering more cost-effective options, these agen- cies should determine the trip purposes of their current riders. If the trips are time sensitive, such as work or school commutes, flexible public transportation services may result in a loss of rid- ers. Work and school commuters tend to want to minimize their travel time since they make the trip so frequently. However, if the trips are for shopping or non-emergency medical purposes, current riders will be less inconvenienced by flexible public transportation service. Mason County Transit Authority (described in Chapter 4) is an example of a rural area in Washington 32 A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services
State that evolved from general public demand-responsive service to route deviation flexible public transportation service. Small Urban Areas Small urban areas (50,000 to 200,000 in population) are usually the best candidates for the route deviation or point deviation forms of flexible public transportation service. In these areas, the following factors should be considered when assessing whether flexible public transportation services are viable: â¢ Current route productivity â¢ Population density â¢ Senior citizen density â¢ Youth density â¢ Income levels â¢ Trip purpose Agencies operating fixed-route service in small urban areas should first determine whether the transit system has productivity rates of fewer than 15 passengers per hour. If so, the entire transit system can be considered for flexible public transportation services. This research effort has shown that flexible public transportation services can achieve productivity rates of up to 15 passengers per hour. A second factor to consider is the trip purposes of the current riders. If passenger trips are largely work or school commutes, the agency is less likely to be in a position to successfully operate route deviation throughout the day. In these cases, the agency could consider operating flexible services during off-peak periods, limiting the need to provide complementary ADA para- transit service to those peak periods when fixed-route service is operated. Population densities are also an important consideration because concentrations of transit- dependent persons, including senior citizens, youth, and low-income persons, may impact the number of deviations and the scheduled trip time. Large Urban Areas and Suburban Areas Many large urban (population over 200,000) transit systems have service standards for different types of service. These standards allow management to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. When routes do not meet the standards, management will consider alternatives ranging from reducing service frequency to eliminating the service completely. Further, stan- dards can be used to determine whether conditions exist for implementing new service. One alternative, especially in areas outside of the core area, is substituting the regular route service standard for less frequent, but more targeted, flexible public transportation service. Flexible public transportation services in medium and large urban areas have been proven suc- cessful in limited applications. Due to higher ridership and the high use of public transportation for work and school commutes in these areas, a systemwide approach to flexible public trans- portation service is usually not advised. The most frequently reported applications for flexible public transportation service in urban areas are the following: â¢ Suburban residential and mixed use as feeder to other transit connections â¢ Office campuses â¢ Replacement of an unsuccessful bus route â¢ Urban night owl service â¢ Residential community constrained by geographic barriers such as lakes, mountains, etc. â¢ Suburban residential as circulators for senior citizens and youth Implementing New Flexible Public Transportation Services 33
â¢ New suburban residential â¢ Areas never served by transit Key data to examine when considering flexible public transportation service in urban areas are the following: â¢ Population density â¢ Size of area to be served â¢ Travel time to connector or time point â¢ Employment density â¢ Household density â¢ Auto ownership â¢ Senior citizen density â¢ Youth density â¢ Median income â¢ Productivity of existing routes, if any In large urban areas, both residential and employment population densities are key data fac- tors to consider in understanding whether flexible public transportation service can be utilized effectively. Other factors to consider include the following: â¢ Are there routes outside of the core area where ridership productivity is below 15 passengers per hour? â¢ Are there areas with significant origins or destinations, near a transit connection such as bus rapid transit (BRT) or light-rail line that are not served by public transportation? â¢ Are there times of day when ridership is low, but public transportation is needed? â¢ Are there special needs groups, year round or seasonally, that could travel within a small area or zone? 3.2 Obtaining Community and Policymaker Input Obtaining community input on decisions such as the type of transportation service to be implemented and the area to be served is vital to planners and local officials. The community should be engaged early on in the planning process and stay engaged through implementation and operations. In several communities studied for this research, community leaders initiated discussion with the transportation provider about implementing local, community-based trans- portation that resulted in flexible public transportation service, often in the form of zone routes. Ongoing community involvement builds support and creates advocacy for the new service. This research revealed a broad range of outreach techniques that are employed by flexible public transportation service providers, including town hall type meetings and information fairs. The most prevalent outreach methods reported by operators of flexible public transportation services were the following: â¢ Public meetings/hearings â¢ Targeted presentations to civic clubs, neighborhood associations, and church groups â¢ Website forums â¢ Citizenâs advisory committees â¢ Surveys â¢ Mixed media, i.e., print and broadcast Communities should use the public involvement technique that is most appropriate for the event purpose and audience. The surveys and case study interviews pointed out that involvement is critical, and marketing the services is a major challenge. To increase the likelihood of success, 34 A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services
agencies and communities should try a number of techniques and settle on those that are most appropriate for their communities. 3.3 Planning and Scheduling Flexible Public Transportation Service As stated previously, the logistics of flexible public transportation services are more related to demand-responsive service than fixed-route service. Deviations consume time, and unscheduled activity is problematic for fixed-route service. Even without route deviations, fixed-route service can have its schedule disrupted by weather, accidents, passenger illnesses, traffic congestion, railroad trains, and lift deployments. Fixed-route schedules need recovery time to ensure that, no matter what unscheduled activity occurs, the next trip can begin at the scheduled time. Fixed-route sched- ules already build in up to 10 percent or more of the total scheduled time for recovery (3 minutes on a 30-minute trip and 6 minutes on a 60-minute trip). Each route deviation can take 3 to 10 min- utes, therefore, adding the time for recovery and the deviation can make the ability to schedule times more difficult, especially if 50 percent or more of the time has an unknown factor to it. Rural Areas One advantage in providing flexible public transportation service in rural areas is introducing a time component to the service. In low-density areas, there is less likelihood of the unscheduled activities that occur in small urban and large urban areas. It is also probable that the passenger productivity potential is lower than the maximum threshold for utilizing fixed-route service. There also is probably not another scheduled trip for the bus to make after the main trip. As a result, the process for scheduling flexible public transportation service in rural areas is simpler and could entail the following steps: â¢ Developing a route that has stops at all the major origins and destinations of the purpose of the trip(s). â¢ Calculating the running time from Point A to Points B, C, and D along the way, using a speed under the posted speed limits. â¢ Adding 20 to 25 percent additional time for expected daily deviations on a daily basis. Small Urban Areas In planning and scheduling flexible public transportation service in small urban areas, it is important to understand the neighborhoods to be served, the street system, and the logical place(s) for service to âmeet.â Since all small urbanized areas receive FTA Section 5307 funding for capital, operating, and preventative maintenance expenses, they currently operate some form of public transportation, most likely fixed-route service. Routes generally have trip times that allow the buses to meet every 30, 45, and/or 60 minutes at a designated point, often a transit center. Recovery time is already built into the fixed-route schedule. When planning and scheduling flexible public transporta- tion service, the unscheduled time should be approximately 50 percent of the actual time to allow for flexibility and recovery. Large Urban Areas In planning and scheduling flexible public transportation service in large urban areas, it is important to understand the area to be served, the street system, the natural and man-made barriers, and the logical place(s) for service to target. Implementing New Flexible Public Transportation Services 35
Flexible public transportation service areas should be small enough to allow buses to penetrate and return in logical times, e.g., 30, 45, and/or 60 minutes. As a result, the service area should be no larger than 4 to 10 square miles. Flexible public transportation service works well in areas with barriers such as mountains, water, and railroad tracks. The important time points are provided at the major transportation activity centers such as rail stations, shopping centers, and transit cen- ters. Routes should be developed to allow the buses to serve the activity center every 30, 45, and/or 60 minutes such that passengers can know the service frequencies. When planning and schedul- ing for flexible public transportation service in these circumstances, the unscheduled time should be approximately 50 percent of the actual time to allow for flexibility and recovery. 3.4 Understanding the Costs The cost of providing flexible public transportation service is measurable, and, while it may vary from region to region, there is enough cost history available to compare flexible public transportation service costs to fixed-route costs across the three operating environments identi- fied for this study. Most agencies did not calculate the cost per trip for flexible public transporta- tion services; therefore, for the purposes of this analysis, where flexible public transportation service costs are not available or where flexible public transportation service does not actually operate, its costs were presumed to be similar to those of demand-responsive service. According to the 2007 National Transit Database (NTD), the national averages for directly operated demand-responsive service cost per trip was $26.95 and the directly operated fixed- route motorbus service cost per trip was $3.21. These rates are similar to the national averages for the combined directly operated and purchased transportation cost per trip of $28.52 for demand-responsive service and $3.19 for fixed-route motorbus service. To gain a better under- standing of flexible public transportation service costs, the cost per trip for the three operating environments identified in the study are presented below. Rural Areas Most flexible public transportation services are operated in rural areas that include large areas with low-density populations, large counties with low-density populations, and small rural com- munities and towns with low-density populations. The cost per trip among rural service providers varied across regions, but the rates do show that flexible public transportation service costs in rural areas are less than the national averages. For example: â¢ South Central Adult Services in North Dakota (see Chapter 4 for more information) operates flexible public transportation services (route deviation and zone routes) and reported cost per trip rates of $10.37 for 2008. â¢ Western Maine Transportation Services, Incorporated (WMTS) in Auburn, Maine, a private, non-profit corporation that provides fixed-route and demand-responsive transportation services, reported cost per trip rates of $12.18 for demand-responsive service and $3.66 for fixed-route bus service in 2007. â¢ Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority (SWRTA) in South Carolina, a rural multi- county jurisdictional agency, reported a 2007 cost per trip rate of $35.27 for demand-responsive service and $8.01 for fixed-route bus service. Small Urban Areas Flexible public transportation services are operated in a number of small urban areas where population densities can range from low/medium (500 to 1,000 persons per square mile) to medium/high (1,000 to 2,000 persons per square mile). In a number of these small urban com- munities, the public transportation agency does not provide many work trips, and flexible pub- lic transportation services obviate the need for complementary ADA paratransit service. The cost 36 A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services
per trip rates among small urban service providers show that flexible public transportation ser- vice costs in small urban areas are less than the national averages. For example: â¢ City of St. Joseph, Missouri (see Chapter 4 for more information), operates flexible public transportation service (route deviation and request stops) on each of its eight routes and reports a cost per trip of $10.46. â¢ Decatur Public Transit System in Decatur, Illinois, reported a 2007 cost per trip of $9.98 for demand-responsive service and $3.63 for fixed-route bus service. â¢ Middletown Area Transit District (MAT) in Middletown, Connecticut, reported a cost per trip of $15.02 for demand-responsive service and $3.19 for fixed-route bus service. â¢ City of Fargo, North Dakota, reported a 2007 cost per trip of $7.17 for demand-responsive service and $6.45 for fixed-route bus service. Large Urban Areas Limited flexible public transportation services are generally operated in large urban areas, and they usually fulfill a specific needânighttime service; service to low-density areas; or feeder or connector service to fixed route, rail, or major traffic generators such as employment centers and shopping malls. In addition, flexible public transportation service can also serve to introduce choice riders to public transit services in some limited circumstances. The cost per trip rates among large urban service providers show that flexible public transportation service costs in large urban areas are similar to the national averages. All of the agencies listed below operate flex- ible public transportation services that are further described in Chapter 4 of this report. The costs of flexible public transportation service for these agencies were reported as the following: â¢ Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) in Jacksonville, Florida, reported a 2007 cost per trip of $46.77 for demand-responsive service and $6.00 for fixed-route bus service. â¢ Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) in Charleston, South Carolina, reported a cost per trip of $36.27 for demand-responsive service, $23.83 for flexible public transportation service, and $4.14 for fixed-route bus service in 2007. â¢ Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver, Colorado, reported a 2007 cost per trip of $30.18 for demand-responsive service, $13.51 for flexible public transportation service, and $3.78 for fixed-route bus service. â¢ Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) in Virginia reported a 2007 cost per trip of $5.38 for its OmniLink flexible public transportation service and $7.59 for fixed-route service. Table 16 shows the cost per trip for different types of public transportation for selected agen- cies in each of the three operating environments identified in the study. The shaded areas in the table indicate services that are not operated by the agency. As the table shows, the cost per trip of flexible public transportation service is generally lower than demand-responsive service, yet much higher than fixed-route service. 3.5 Capital NeedsâVehicles and Technology Transportation agencies and other providers of flexible public transportation services use a variety of vehicles to transport riders, ranging from passenger vans to regular transit buses. A number of considerations are factored into the choice of vehicles, including the following: â¢ Passenger loads â¢ Ridership characteristics (ADA, senior citizens, etc.) â¢ Width of travel lanes â¢ Route or zone distances â¢ Capital funding â¢ Agency preferences Implementing New Flexible Public Transportation Services 37
38 A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services Agency Name Area Served Cost Per Trip for Fixed Route ($) Cost Per Trip for DRT* ($) Cost Per Trip for FPTS** ($) South Central Adult Services Council, Inc. (ND) Rural 10.37 WMTS (ME) Rural 3.66 12.18 Santee Wateree (SC) Rural 8.01 35.27 Decatur Public Transit System (IL) Small Urban 3.63 9.98 City of St. Joseph (MO) Small Urban 10.46 City of Fargo (ND) Small Urban 6.45 7.17 MAT (CT) Small Urban 3.19 15.02 JTA (FL) Large Urban 6.00 46.77 Not available CARTA (SC) Large Urban 4.14 36.27 23.83 RTD (CO) LargeUrban 3.78 30.18 13.51 *DRT =Demand-Responsive Transportation **FPTS = Flexible Public Transportation Services Table 16. Cost per trip for different types of public transportation. Type of Service Area Type of Flexible Public Transportation Service Recommended Vehicle Types Rural Request Stops Zone Routes Route Deviation Passenger Vans ( 5â16 seats) Body-on-Chassis Vehicle (12â30 seats) Small Buses ( 18â35 seats) Small Urban Route Deviation Point Deviation Request Stops Body-on-Chassis Vehicles (12â30 seats) Small Buses (18â35 seats) Large Urban Point Deviation Demand-Responsive Connector Flexible Route Segments Zone Routes Body-on-Chassis Vehicles (12â30 seats) Small Buses (18â35 seats) Table 17. Vehicle types and service areas. A large majority of the survey respondents indicated that they used small, body-on -chassis buses to operate flexible public transportation services. This is not too surprising since most respondents were small agencies and private, non-profit organizations that generally served areas of low density in rural and small urban areas. Small buses and body-on-chassis vehicles are best suited for flexible public transportation service in all areas. Table 17 shows the different types of vehicles recommended for each service area and the type of flexible public transportation service operated. Vehicle Selection Issues A number of variables should be considered when determining the type of vehicle to operate for flexible public transportation service. Ultimately, the vehicle selected should closely fit the type
of service to be used and the operating and physical environment in which it will be operated. A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Report titled Handbook for Purchasing a Small Tran- sit Vehicle (Bureau of Public Transportation, 1988) cited a number of factors to be considered in the selection of a vehicle type and size. These include the following: â¢ Service considerations â¢ Costs â¢ Maintenance and storage capabilities â¢ Operating environment â¢ Other factors (i.e., government regulations, community acceptance, etc.) A community or agency should evaluate the above factors and make the vehicle selection based on what they determine to be the best fit for their service needs. Technology to Facilitate Flexible Public Transportation The use of technology by agencies operating public transportation is now commonplace in the United States. Agencies typically employ technology to achieve a higher level of passenger service, increase capacity and quality of service, improve customer service, reduce system oper- ating costs, manage fleets, and improve service reliability. The same holds true for providers of flexible public transportation services. These providers use technology predominantly for com- munications and scheduling. The vast majority of survey respondents identified voice radio as the most frequently used technology for flexible public transportation service. Voice radio was followed by cell phones and computerized scheduling systems. Very few respondents indicated use of AVL systems, GPS, or MDTs. Table 18 shows the different types of technology used by flexible public transportation service providers. The deployment of advanced communication and scheduling technologies holds consider- able promise for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of flexible public transportation ser- vices. More sophisticated technologies have been identified and tested with the potential for improving the delivery of flexible public transportation services, including the following: â¢ Interactive voice response technologies for handling customer requests â¢ Accurate automatic vehicle location of buses â¢ Powerful mathematical algorithms for calculating shortest path assignments â¢ Fast processors to make the calculations feasible â¢ Reliable communications systems with on-board MDTs Implementing New Flexible Public Transportation Services 39 Type of Service Area Type of Technology Deployed Rural Cell Phones Voice Radio Small Urban Voice Radio Cell Phones AVL Computerized Scheduling and Dispatching Systems Large Urban Voice Radio AVL GPS MDTs Computerized Scheduling and Dispatching Systems Table 18. Technology used to operate flexible public transportation services.
There is no doubt that the use of technology can greatly affect the timeliness and quality of flex- ible public transportation service; however, costs, staffing, and training of drivers and dispatch personnel are issues that must be considered. Most agencies in rural and small urban areas deploy the same technologies and strategies used for demand-responsive service, including ADA complementary paratransit service, for their flex- ible public transportation services. A dispatcher and/or reservationist can accept requests for a flexible pick-up and radio the same to the driver or, if received a day in advance of the trip, can add the pick-up to the driverâs daily manifest. Larger agencies that operate service in a variety of areas or that carry more than 10 passengers per hour should invest in more sophisticated computerized scheduling systems designed for flex- ible public transportation services. This can involve direct communication with the driver, via cell phone or an on-board computer that accepts on-line reservations and inserts them into the next available slot. The driver then checks the schedule before each trip leaves the time point. The most advanced systems identified during this research were found at RTDâs call-N-Ride service and at the PRTC OmniLink service in suburban Washington, DC. Both of these services are further described in Chapter 4. 3.6 Marketing Flexible Public Transportation Service It is very important to promote and advertise any type of new product or service. This is no less true for flexible public transportation service than it is for a new flavor of diet soda. The type of marketing that most providers of flexible public transportation service found useful is direct presentations to community groups. Since flexible public transportation service usually serves a specific clientele, area, or community, the public transportation provider should meet with members of the public at regular community gatherings to solicit input and feedback and pro- mote the service. The transportation provider can speak at the following: â¢ Senior citizen centers â¢ Neighborhood associations â¢ Local business groups such as a chamber of commerce â¢ Community fairs â¢ Events at colleges or local schools The next most frequently used and probably least costly form of marketing was the agencyâs website. More than half of the agencies participating in this research indicated that their websites were an effective and efficient way to publicize and explain flexible public transportation services. Appendix C of the contractorâs final report for TCRP Project B-35 (available by going to www.trb.org and searching for âTCRP Report 140â) contains a large array of marketing materials found on websites regarding flexible public transportation services. In addition to presentations and websites, agencies include information on their flexible pub- lic transportation services on system maps, individual route timetables, and/or brochures. Fewer agencies reported using paid advertising in print media or using direct mail as a method of pro- moting their service. One agency, JTA, used posters to promote flexible public transportation to different markets. An example of one poster is shown as Figure 20. In summary, it is important for an agency to include information on flexible public trans- portation in its general marketing material. However, this type of service is usually community based, so marketing efforts should be focused on the target area. Making personal presentations and distributing materials in the affected area are considered to be the most effective ways to reach potential riders. 40 A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services
Implementing New Flexible Public Transportation Services 41 Source: JTA Figure 20. Poster advertising flexible public transportation services.