National Academies Press: OpenBook

Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services (2004)

Chapter: CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN

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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23364.
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23364.
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23364.
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23364.
×
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23364.
×
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER THREE - SERVICE DESIGN." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23364.
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9 CHAPTER THREE SERVICE DESIGN Flexible transit services occupy a middle ground between traditional fixed-route transit service and dial-a-ride or paratransit. The wide variety of flexible transit services can be defined by the way that four elements of service design are established in this middle ground, as shown in Table 3 and explained as follows. 1. Where vehicles operate—Vehicles may operate along a defined route, as in fixed-route service, but also re- spond to service requests by diverging from the route. There may also be no route, but only a corridor or geographic area, in which case there is usually one or more fixed anchor points. 2. Boarding and alighting locations—Passengers may board and alight at established stops, which may be along a defined path or may be distributed within the area of operation. Alternatively, or in addition, pas- sengers may often board and alight at other locations, for example, at any address that can be safely ac- cessed by a bus or at street corners established in dis- cussion with a driver or dispatcher. 3. Schedule—The times when vehicles will be at board- ing and alighting locations are some mix of pre- scheduled times and times determined by demand. If there is a route or there are established route end points, then the times at stops on the route and at end points will usually follow a fixed schedule. Times at other locations are variable, although they are con- strained by the portion of the schedule that is fixed. 4. Advance notice requirements—At fixed points served on a schedule, there is typically no need for passen- gers to request a boarding or alighting ahead of time, aside from minimal notice to signal a bus driver to make a stop for alighting. At other points, some type of advance notice is needed. Such notice may take the form of a request to the driver at the time of boarding, a call to a dispatch center or directly to the driver, or a subscription that constitutes a standing order for the same trip every day or every week. The rest of this chapter is organized by headings corre- sponding to these four elements of flexible service design. WHERE VEHICLES OPERATE All of the services studied serve some fixed points or routes, plus a demand-responsive area or specific demand- responsive stops. • Route deviation—Three-quarters of the route devia- tion services have a formal policy about how far the buses will deviate from the route. However, there is great variation in how the maximum extent of devia- tion is defined. As shown in Table 4, the extent of deviation formally permitted ranges from 0.25 to 1.5 mi. Two systems allow deviations within a city limit. In Napa, two small towns, with populations of 2,916 and 5,960, have deviation service throughout their very limited areas. In the case of St. Joseph Transit, the 44-square mile city is covered by seven routes, so the maximum required deviation is usually no more than a few blocks off the route. The remaining systems have more flexible or in- formal policies. In Ottumwa, deviations are limited to the immediate vicinity of routes. At Madison County Transit, each subscription deviation is negotiated with a group home or structured employer. The most flexi- TABLE 3 ELEMENTS OF FLEXIBLE AND TRADITIONAL SERVICE DESIGNS Service Type Elements of Service Fixed Route Flexible Dial-a-Ride or Paratransit Where vehicles operate On the defined route A route plus off-route locations or areas, or a geographic area A geographic area Boarding and lighting locations Fixed or flag stops Some fixed stops plus other locations Any safe location in the service area Schedule Fixed Fixed at end points or time points on the route, demand- responsive at other locations Depends entirely on trips requested Advance notice requirements Not required Required at some locations Always required

10 TABLE 4 MAXIMUM EXTENT OF DEVIATIONS FOR ROUTE DEVIATION ERVICES S Permitted Deviation Area Transit System 0.25 mi from route MTS 0.50 mi from route Akron, Minnesota Valley 0.75 mi from route PRTC, GRTC 1.5 mi from route Tillamook Zones (unknown distance) Ride Solution City limits Napa, St. Joseph Informal Madison County, Mason County, OTA Notes: MTS = Metropolitan Transit System; PRTC = Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission; GRTC = Greater Richmond Transit Company; OTA = Ottumwa Transit Authority. ible policy observed is in Mason County (Washing- ton). In that very spread-out rural area, drivers have the discretion to accept deviations, which in a few cases are as far as 5 or 6 mi off the route. • Point deviation—All three services classified as point deviation make demand-responsive pick-ups and drop-offs within marked zones. Because the number of fixed locations served is very limited, they do not provide a basis for defining the demand-responsive area. The size of the deviation area is determined for reasons such as the desire to serve a defined neighborhood or community, or dividing a larger area into sectors. • Demand-responsive connector—The demand- respon-sive connector operations generally provide services within a clearly defined zone, generally a distinctive geographic area or neighborhood. In- formation about the size of the zones was not ob- tained. One unusual case does deserve mention. In Akron, the Metro Regional Transit Authority pro- vides a Night Zone service in which three to four buses leaving downtown at 12:00 midnight, 12:30 a.m., and 1:00 a.m. provide demand-responsive ser- vice, dropping passengers off at any bus stop usually served by routes operating from downtown. In this case, the zones served cover most of the transit system service area. Red Deer, Alberta, operates a similar service, as did Lethbridge, Alberta, until increasing ridership brought a change to conven- tional fixed-route operations. • Request stops—In request stop service, deviations are limited to a small number of specific locations near the usual route. • Flexible-route segments—Both of the services with flexible-route segments allow demand-responsive boarding and alighting within community or city boundaries in the flexible portions of the route. • Zone routes—Mason County Transit’s zone route op- erates within a corridor with boundaries that are de- fined by the road network and natural barriers. BOARDING AND ALIGHTING LOCATIONS Flexible services typically allow two types of boarding and alighting: spontaneous boarding and alighting and demand- responsive boarding and alighting. Spontaneous Boarding and Alighting All of the reported services but one has at least one loca- tion where passengers can board and alight without some kind of advance notice. The term “advance notice” here means some kind of request to the driver or a dispatch cen- ter, beyond the momentary advance notice typically re- quired to alert a bus driver that a passenger wishes to alight. Additional findings include the following: • Route deviation—All 12 systems that use this type of service allow spontaneous boarding at regular stops along the route. • Point deviation—The three services using point de- viation allow for spontaneous boardings at a very limited number of scheduled stops. • Demand-responsive connectors and zone routes—In the six reported demand-responsive connector ser- vices and the one zone route, spontaneous boarding locations are mostly limited to one or two points where the flexible service connects to the fixed-route network. However, serving the transfer points is typi- cally the principal mode of operation, and the major- ity of passengers travel to or from a transfer point. Some of Winnipeg Transit System’s Dial-a-Ride Transit (DART) routes have a fixed-route segment that is operated between the transfer location and demand-responsive zone. Passengers can board the DART bus without a reservation at all stops on this fixed-route segment. • Flexible-route segments—In the case of routes with flexible segments, spontaneous boarding is permitted along the fixed-route portions of the service, which account for most of the route mileage. Of the two re- ported examples, both are lengthy routes that connect rural towns to a larger city. The one service that does not allow any kind of sponta- neous boarding is operated by Pierce Transit in Tacoma, Washington. The Orting Loop is operated using vehicles in ADA paratransit service. Although the loop connects to the fixed-route network, no vehicle is scheduled to depart at the transfer points unless a reservation has been re- ceived. Demand-Responsive Boarding and Alighting Within the formally or informally defined zones or areas where demand-responsive service is provided, most sys-

11 tems further limit the locations at which passengers can be picked up or discharged. At a minimum, possible locations are limited to places that can be safely served with what- ever vehicle type is used. Often this assumption of safety is simply taken for granted and not explicitly stated in public information materials. In very rural areas, narrow and/or unpaved roads can make it impossible to serve many loca- tions. For example, Pierce Transit assigns staff to survey requested pick-up locations to determine whether a bus can safely operate there and, if not, to determine a safe nearby pick-up point. In the customer brochure for its Flex ser- vice, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) ex- plains, “Please note that some locations are not accessible to FLEX buses. In such cases, the dispatcher will work with you to find an alternative stop close by.” Many systems further limit potential pick-up and drop- off points beyond the basic issue of safe locations. Such limitations reported included • For its Night Zone service, the Metro Regional Transit Authority in Akron limits drop-offs to established bus stops. No demand-responsive pick-ups are provided. • For its DART service, the Winnipeg Transit System discharges passengers traveling outbound from the transfer points at established DART stops that blan- ket the DART zones. Drivers have the discretion to drop off passengers at their residence if time permits. For trips inbound to the transfer points, passengers are picked up at home to minimize waiting at stops, especially in very cold weather. • The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) specifies that non-ADA passengers cannot request a deviation within two blocks of the regular route. Some systems negotiate convenient meeting points with passengers to minimize deviation time. For its OmniLink service, the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) advises passengers who want to schedule an off-route pick-up that, “A Customer Service Agent will work with you and try to route the bus closer to where you live or want to go—up to 3/4 mile off the route.” The advisory goes on to note that, “You may be asked to get on or off the bus at a location that is within a few blocks of your origin or destination.” Request stop services are by definition limited to spe- cific designated off-route stops. SCHEDULE Fixed Schedules All of the flexible services have some fixed operating schedule. For route and point deviation, for request stop service, and for routes with flexible segments, the sched- ules list a series of time points with departures, as for con- ventional fixed-route service. For demand-responsive con- nector service, the fixed schedule is typically limited to departure and arrival times at the transfer point or points. For the single example of a zone route, the schedule con- sists of one established departure time each day. Other ser- vices that have been called zone routes also included ap- proximate times in successive portions of the corridor of travel. Flexible services are not generally implemented in set- tings that support frequent transit service. More than half of the reported services have minimum operating head- ways (i.e., most frequent service) of 1 h or more. Only one service could be described as frequent—Portland Tri-Met’s Cedar Mill shuttle operates peak periods only, approxi- mately every 15 min. Demand-Responsive Schedules For demand-responsive pick-ups, either a dispatcher or a driver will determine the appropriate sequence and ap- proximate time of pick-ups. When that schedule is created and by whom will depend on advance notice requirements, as described in the next section. The demand-responsive schedule is constrained by the fixed-route schedule. ADVANCE-NOTICE REQUIREMENTS Boarding To be picked up at a location away from the fixed, sched- uled stops, passengers must request service through a dis- patcher or directly with a bus driver. As shown in Table 5, the most common requirements are to request a pick-up sometime the previous day, or else sometime within the hour before service. Within these categories there is considerable variation. Previous-day requirements include 4:00 p.m., 12 noon, and 24 h. Systems that accept short-notice requests include some that allow 30-min, 20-min, 15-min, and even 10-min ad- vance notice. There is no obvious connection between ser- vice type and the length of the advance-notice period. Short- notice situations occur in small cities, large metropolitan ar- eas, and rural areas. The availability of short-notice requests does not appear to be related to the use of advanced tech- nology. Notably, all but one of the request stop services permits short-notice requests, because these deviations are typically small in number and easily accommodated. A number of the systems allow some flexibility in the amount of advance notice required. For example, Mason

12 TABLE 5 ADVANCE NOTICE REQUIRED FOR DEMAND-RESPONSIVE BOARDINGS Service Type Advance Notice Demand- Responsive Connector Flexible- Route Segments Point Deviation Request Stops Route Deviation Zone Route All Service Types Less than 1 h 2 1 3 3 9 1 h 1 2 3 2 h 3 3 Previous day 2 1 1 4 1 9 At time of drop-off* 1 1 Informal 1 1 Not available** 1 1 Subscription only 1 1 Total 6 2 3 4 12 1 28 *For the return trip. **Demand-responsive boardings not available. County asks for previous-day notice, but will try to ac- commodate short-notice requests. St. Joseph Transit (Mis- souri) has no formal policy, stating that requests are taken whenever they fit into the fixed-route timetable. Demand-responsive boarding requests are generally re- ceived by dispatchers rather than by drivers. Only the fol- lowing three services reported that passengers request boardings with drivers: • Winnipeg Transit System’s DART (demand-respon- sive connector) services—passengers call a central number and their calls are routed to the appropriate driver’s cell phone by an interactive voice response system. There is one vehicle per zone. • Lane Transit District’s (LTD, Eugene, Oregon) Dia- mond Express (rural routes with limited flexible op- eration in the urban area)—passengers arrange with the driver on the inbound trip for a demand- responsive drop-off and a later pick-up for their re- turn trip. • OTA (small town route deviation)—passengers can ask a driver for a deviation later in the day. The driver relays this information to the dispatcher. Twelve of the 28 flexible services have policies con- cerning the maximum length of time before service in which they will accept a demand-responsive boarding re- quest. Of those that have such a policy, the most common times are 14 days (three systems) and 2 days (four sys- tems). Twelve of the 28 flexible services accept subscription requests for demand-responsive boardings, that is, a stand- ing order for the same trip on a repeated basis. This group includes most of the systems that have a stated maximum advance-request period. Alighting Generally, on services that permit short-notice boarding re- quests (typically 1 h or less), passengers can also request a demand-responsive drop-off with the driver at the time of boarding. These requests would typically come from spon- taneous boarding passengers who boarded at a fixed stop. Demand-responsive alighting requests made at the time of boarding, if permitted, are accommodated only on a time- available basis. On systems that require longer advance no- tice for demand-responsive boardings, demand-responsive alighting requests usually have to be made through dis- patch, with the same advance notice as for boarding re- quests. In the case of demand-responsive connector services, the usual mode of operation for trips outbound from the transfer point is that passengers communicate their desired drop-off locations to the driver at the time of boarding. The driver then has to create a route that will serve all of the requested drop-off locations, possibly in combination with some number of boardings that have also been requested ahead of time. LTD’s Diamond Express uses on-board communication with drivers as the exclusive method of scheduling de- mand-responsive requests. Passengers who board on the fixed-route portion of the service in the rural towns on the midday trip can request demand-responsive drop-offs to be provided at the end of the trip within the urban area of Eugene–Springfield. At the same time they can schedule their return trip pick-ups. FARES Eight of the 24 reporting transit systems charge more for flexible service than for conventional service. These differ-

13 ences take various forms. Five of the 12 route deviation services charge extra for the deviations. The surcharges range from $0.10 in St. Joseph, Missouri (on top of a $0.50 base fare) to a 100% surcharge by the PRTC for nonelderly or nondisabled riders requesting a deviation (on top of a $1.00 base fare). In Napa, the Napa County Transportation Planning Agency allows riders boarding and alighting at stops to ride free, whereas those requesting a deviation pay $1.00. Only one of the six demand-responsive connector ser- vices charges more than the conventional service at the same transit system. This occurs in Sarasota County Area Transit’s SCAT About service on Venice Island. The same area is served by a fixed route that costs $0.50 and a de- mand-responsive connector that costs $1.00. None of the request stop services charges extra for a de- viation. COORDINATION WITH OTHER SERVICES Coordination with Fixed-Route Service In most cases, flexible services are operated in conjunction with fixed-route services. Coordination is most important for demand-responsive connector services, which by defi- nition have a connection to fixed-route service as one of their principal features. Although most of the demand- responsive connector services are scheduled to ensure a transfer to and from the connecting fixed-route service, only Capital Area Transit in Raleigh, North Carolina, guar- antees these transfers by means of communication between drivers and dispatch. Transfers are also an important feature of route and point deviation services that operate in very limited areas, and they act as connectors to larger fixed-route systems. For example, the San Diego MTS’s four flex-route services operate on routes within neighborhoods considered to be difficult to serve with fixed-route transit services. Each of the routes makes connections to a much larger regional transit network. Transfers to and from the fixed-route net- work are scheduled and free. In general, where flexible ser- vices are provided in the context of a larger system, connec- tions are provided, as in the case of other local routes. Coordination with Paratransit Because flexible service involves a demand-responsive component, the potential exists to coordinate it with para- transit service for people with disabilities. Many of the sur- veyed systems do coordinate, as summarized in Table 6. The following coordination situations can be distinguished: • No paratransit—The entire system, or all the service in an area or time segment, is considered demand- responsive so that no separate paratransit is required under the ADA. • Unified operation—Paratransit service is offered, but in practice it is provided by the identical vehicles that also provide the flexible service. • Paratransit operation—The flexible service is pro- vided by the paratransit operation. • Separate, but coordinated—Paratransit is separate from the flexible service, but it is coordinated. For example, the two services are dispatched by the same staff, individual demand-responsive trips may be traded by the two services (trip sharing), or some of the same vehicles are used for the two services. • Separate, not coordinated—The two service types are completely separate. The following are descriptions of flexible services and types of coordination with paratransit. No Paratransit Under the ADA, complementary paratransit is required for all public fixed-route transit systems in the United States. Demand-responsive transit systems do not have to provide separate paratransit, although they do have to ensure that passengers who use wheelchairs receive service equivalent to that provided to other passengers. Flexible service is TABLE 6 PARATRANSIT AND FLEXIBLE SERVICE COORDINATION Flexible Service Type Type of Coordination Demand- Responsive Connector Flexible- Route Segments Point Deviation Request Stops Route Deviation All Types No paratransit 1 3 4 Unified operation 2 2 Paratransit operation 1 1 Separate, but coordinated 2 2 2 6 12 Separate, not coordinated 2 2 1 5 Total 5 2 3 2 12 24

14 considered demand-responsive service. The systems in the survey that use this method of operation are the Central Oklahoma Transit and Parking Authority, Mason County Transit, the PRTC, and Ride Solution (ARC Transit). In Oklahoma City, point deviation service replaces fixed- route service in the central area after about 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and on Sundays. At those times, separate ADA paratransit is not required. In Mason County all routes ac- cept some deviations and there is coordinated general public dial-a-ride. PRTC and Ride Solution both use route deviation as the only method of operating local transit service. Unified Operation The survey found two examples of unified paratransit and flexible service operation. The transit system in St. Joseph, Missouri, which was described in chapter two, is the most comprehensive example. GRTC’s Chesterfield LINK pro- vides an example of a single route with unified paratransit. The route extends into a suburban area with no other tran- sit service. Deviations are available but may be limited and buses will not always go all the way to the passenger’s home or destination. Patrons can also become certified for ADA paratransit. Rules for the paratransit service are very similar to those for deviations, except that the fare is higher ($2.25 instead of $1.25), deviations within two blocks of the route are accepted, and service to the curb at the home or destination is always provided. Paratransit Operation Pierce Transit (Tacoma, Washington) operates a rural con- nector service using paratransit vehicles dispatched by the paratransit system. However, the service is considered a general public service that serves all passengers regard- less of disability. One former service of this type was re- placed by a new service that uses dedicated vehicles. How- ever, those vehicles are still dispatched by the paratransit control center. Separate, but Coordinated The most common situation is that flexible service and paratransit are separate, but there is some degree of coor- dination. Joint dispatching, vehicle sharing, and trip shar- ing are all common. Systems not mentioned elsewhere in this section have separate but coordinated flexible service and paratransit. Separate, not Coordinated Situations where there is no coordination include request stop services and route deviation services that make very limited deviations (e.g., in San Diego, where deviations are limited to one-quarter mile). The Winnipeg Transit System does not actively coordinate DART demand- responsive connector service with paratransit service. However, some paratransit riders do choose the DART service instead of paratransit for some trips, especially in three zones where the connecting fixed routes are oper- ated using low-floor buses. For those customers, DART is attractive because reservations require less than 1 h ad- vance notice, whereas paratransit reservations must be made a day in advance.

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TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 53: Operational Experiences with Flexible Transit Services examines transit agency experiences with “flexible transit services,” including all types of hybrid services that are not pure demand-responsive (including dial-a-ride and Americans with Disabilities Act paratransit) or fixed-route services, but that fall somewhere in between those traditional service models.

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