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22 CHAPTER FIVE OPERATIONS Operational issues connected to flexible services include allocating schedule time between fixed-schedule and de- mand-responsive operation; reservations, scheduling, and dispatch for demand-responsive operation; contracting; driver selection and training; and vehicle selection. ALLOCATION OF SCHEDULED TIME Flexible operation by its nature requires a fixed schedule that defines when vehicles will be at time points, but one that also leaves time for responding to demand-responsive service requests. The flexible service types can be ranked according to the degree of flexible and fixed-schedule op- eration inherent in their designs, as shown in Figure 6 and explained here. â¢ Request stopsâNone of the transit systems that oper- ate request stop service provided a numerical esti- mate of the time allowed for serving request stops, reflecting the very limited degree of flexibility in this type of operation. â¢ Flexible-route segmentsâOf the two systems with flexible-route segments, one specifies, in its public timetables, the time for flexible operation. LTD allots up to an hour at the end of the inbound midday trip for curb-to-curb operation within the urban area, and another hour for curb-to-curb operation in the urban area at the beginning of the following outbound trip. â¢ Route deviationâFive systems operating route devia- tion service estimated the amount of time available for deviations in their schedules. The times ranged from 20 min out of every hour at St. Joseph Transit and Ride Solution, where demand-responsive opera- tion is a prominent part of the service, to only 2.5 min per hour at San Diego MTS, where deviations play a much more limited role. â¢ Point deviationâPoint deviation services, by defini- tion, leave substantial amounts of demand-responsive time in their schedules, averaging 30 min out of every hour at the three systems that provided information. â¢ Zone routeâThe single reported zone route service has a single departure point for its one trip per day, so that all time is available for demand-responsive op- eration. â¢ Demand-responsive connectorâFive transit systems that operate demand-responsive connector service provided schedule information. For each 60 min of Mostly Fixed Service Type Degree of Fixed Scheduling Time for Demand-Responsive Operation Request stops A complete route is scheduled Time for a limited number of short deviations to known locations. Flexible-route segments A complete route is scheduled Time for deviations to unspecified locations, but only within short portions of the route. Route deviation A complete route is scheduled Time for deviations throughout the route to unspecified locations. Point deviation A few time points are scheduled Most time is available for deviations. Zone routes One or two time points may be scheduled All remaining time is available for deviations. Demand- responsive connector One or two time points may be scheduled All time except layover at transfer points is available for deviations. Mostly Demand Responsive FIGURE 6 Scheduling considerations for flexible service types.
23 operating time, the demand-responsive connector ser- vices schedule 5 to 10 min of layover at the transfer points. The remaining time is used for demand- responsive operation. DEMAND-RESPONSIVE SCHEDULING AND DISPATCHING In most cases, demand-responsive scheduling and dis- patching are accomplished through some combination of telephone reservations, printed manifests with lists of re- served deviations, voice radios and/or cell phones for changes or insertions on the day of operation, and schedul- ing on the fly by drivers in response to on-board requests. For same-day requests, some systems, such as Mason County Transit, give drivers the discretion to accept a de- viation request or not, including requests made through the dispatch office. The OTA has the opposite division of re- sponsibility: when drivers receive an on-board deviation request, they must obtain clearance to accept it from dis- patch. Half of the systems use some type of scheduling and dispatch software, similar to that used for paratransit scheduling. PRTC uses a customized version of a popular paratransit scheduling program created specifically to ac- commodate route deviation operation. This program cre- ates a listing for each scheduled vehicle trip, with time points and fixed stops listed according to estimated arrival time, along with all reserved deviations. For 6 years, driv- ers received a paper manifest that included all deviation requests received by the previous day, and they received same-day requests by voice radio. Beginning in July 2003, the system began transmitting all planned stops by means of mobile data terminals (MDTs). Nine transit systems use cell phones to communicate with drivers, either in combination with voice radio or ex- clusively. Two transit systems use cell phones instead of radios to communicate passenger requests to drivers be- cause they offer more privacy than conventional radio transmissions. Several systems use cell phones for com- munication when vehicles are beyond radio range. The Winnipeg Transit System routes all passenger ride-request calls directly to driversâ cell phones by means of a touch- tone menu. Five transit systems have MDTs for transmitting infor- mation between vehicles and dispatch. These systems have MDTs and automatic vehicle location (AVL) equipment in- stalled in their entire fleets, and they use it for time checks, supervisory control, and emergencies. PRTC appears to be the only transit system currently using MDTs for flexible demand-responsive operations. Two transit systems that are planning to install or currently installing MDTs and AVL for use in flexible service dispatching are St. Joseph Transit and Madison County Transit. OTA has an AVL sys- tem that dispatchers can use to help determine if a vehicle is able to accommodate a deviation request. Three transit systems rely entirely on drivers for all de- mand-responsive scheduling. â¢ On Akron Metroâs Night Zone service, passengers board buses at the downtown transfer points without any reservation and tell the drivers what stop they want to go to. The drivers then make up a route to drop off all boarded passengers in an efficient man- ner. â¢ On LTDâs Diamond Express, passengers traveling in bound to EugeneâSpringfield from rural areas can tell the driver on the midday trip where they want to go in the urban area and also schedule a return pick- up. â¢ On Winnipeg Transit Systemâs DART service, pas- sengers request demand-responsive drop-offs when they board at the transfer point and use the cell phone connection described earlier to schedule pick-ups. Drivers use a simple graphical trip sheet (discussed in chapter six) to work out an efficient way to com- bine the requested drop-offs and pick-ups. CONTRACTING AND OTHER COST-SAVINGS MEASURES Thirteen of the 24 reporting systems contract for the opera- tion of their flexible services (see Table 10). In most cases, contracting for flexible services appears to follow from contracting for other services: of the 13 that contract for flexible service, 7 contract all transit operations and an- other 5 contract for flexible service and paratransit. Most of the systems that do not contract for flexible service do not contract for any of their transit operations. It might be expected that flexible service could be less expensive to operate than conventional transit service per unit of service (measured in vehicle miles or hours), owing to contracting, use of smaller vehicles, or driver wage dif- ferentials related to the use of smaller vehicles. On the other hand, the need to dispatch demand-responsive trips could make flexible service somewhat more expensive than fixed-route service. Unfortunately, from the limited data received, it was not possible to determine whether such differences exist. Four transit systems did report that they have some type of separate driver wage provisions but gave no details. A system that operates flexible service us- ing its own drivers expressed concern about whether it would be possible to find drivers with the necessary skills to operate flexible service at lower wage rates than are paid drivers for fixed-route service.
24 TABLE 10 CONTRACTING FOR FLEXIBLE AND OTHER OPERATIONS Contract Flexible Operations? Contract Other Operations? No. of Systems Yes All transit operations 7 Yes Paratransit 5 Yes Senior shuttles 1 No Paratransit, possibly other specialized service 3 No None, or not determined 6 Private operator 1 Not determined 1 Total transit systems reporting 24 STAFF SELECTION AND TRAINING Most survey respondents indicated that drivers are selected to operate flexible service by the traditional process used for other services, which is typically a bid process based on seniority. A handful of systems indicated some special con- siderations. For example, the San Diego MTS reported that it uses the same requirements for flexible service and dial- a-ride. Two systems reported that they combine traditional bidding with a special training requirement. Pierce Transit requires that drivers qualify (by having completed the re- quired training) as a paratransit driver, to operate flexible service. As will be described in chapter six, the Winnipeg Transit System requires drivers who select flexible service work to have special training. In the case of systems where flexible service is operated by a paratransit contractor, the drivers who can bid for flexible service will generally have been selected based on paratransit criteria, and they will have received paratransit training. The transit systems that responded provided limited infor- mation about the specific training that drivers receive to oper- ate flexible service. In those systems where the entire opera- tion is flexible, all drivers receive the same training. Training topics that were mentioned included procedures for deviations and familiarity with the area of operation. In the case of re- quest stop services, training for the optional stops would be similar to that provided for the rest of the fixed route, with the addition of procedures for accepting stop requests. Where sys- tems operate throughout an area or zone, drivers would need a thorough knowledge of the street layout in that area. Survey respondents provided only very general infor- mation about dispatcher training. This may indicate a situa- tion similar to that which exists for paratransit operations, where curricula and standards for dispatcher training are far less defined than for driver training (Crain & Associates 1999). VEHICLES There is little discernable pattern in the vehicles used for flexible service. The great majority of systems use some type of van or small body-on-chassis bus. Except in the case of request stop services and some flexible services that constitute the entire transit service, vehicle sizes range from the 12-passenger vans used by Portland Tri- Met to 35-passenger transit buses used by Capital Area Transit. The OTA, where deviations are short and repre- sent a small percentage of service, uses 42-ft Thomas buses, and Mason County Transit, which operates long- distance rural routes, uses buses of up to 40 ft in length. Considerations that transit systems reported in their choice of vehicles include availability as a result of vehi- cle use for other services, maneuverability on narrow streets, passenger loads, community perceptions and ac- ceptability, and possibility of operation by drivers without a commercial driverâs license. Ten of the transit systems would prefer to operate some other vehicle type than the one being used. Problems men- tioned about existing vehicles include that they are too large or too small, they lack amenities, and they are not sufficiently durable. [See Hemily and King (2002) for a comprehensive treatment of issues with vehicles typical of those used in flexible service.]