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24 C H A P T E R 5 This chapter summarizes the results of the projectâs case examples. For each completed case example, the following information is provided in narrative form: â¢ Background information about the agency and the context in which it provides or supports transit service. â¢ Planning challenge that the agency faced. â¢ The agencyâs approach to addressing the planning challenge. â¢ Costs and benefits of implementing the approach. â¢ Lessons learned while addressing the planning challenge. Text boxes provide the relevant agencyâs location, annual ridership, and annual operating budget based on 2018 National Transit Database (NTD) data, where applicable. The text boxes also provide keywords to highlight specific topics covered in each case example. TableÂ 10 sum- marizes which keywords pertain to each case example. Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges Case Exam- ple Keyword AD A Co or di - na tio n Co st Re du cti on Fl ee t FM LM Jo b Ac ce ss N ew Fu nd in g O ut re ac h Pr oc ur e- m en t Se rv ic e De si gn Te ch - no lo gy Tr ai ni ng 1A X X X 1B X X X 1C X X 1D X X 2A X X X 2B X X 2C X X 2D X X X 2E X X 2F X X 3A X X 3B X X X 3C X X X 3D X X X 3E X X Table 10. Case example keyword summary.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 25Â Â Theme #1: Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Case Example 1A: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Table 10. (Continued). Case Exam- ple Keyword AD A Co or di - na tio n Co st Re du cti on Fl ee t FM LM Jo b Ac ce ss N ew Fu nd in g O ut re ac h Pr oc ur e- m en t Se rv ic e De si gn Te ch - no lo gy Tr ai ni ng 4A X X 4B X X 4C X X 4D X 4E X X X 4F X X 4G X X 4H X 4I X 4J X X 5A X X 5B X X 5C X X X 5D X X 5E X X Summary The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) created two programs to address the transit needs of specific rider markets: TD Late Shift and Direct Connect. TD Late Shift provides service when little or no fixed-route service is available. Direct Connect provides FMLM connections, which is the subject of Theme #5. Background PSTA is the public transportation provider for Pinellas County, which is located on Floridaâs Gulf Coast. St. Petersburg is the largest city in the service area. Information about PSTA services Theme: Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Keywords: FMLM, job access, service design Annual Ridership: 11.9Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 944,000 Agency: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Location: St. Petersburg, FL Annual Revenue Miles: 12.9Â million Annual Operating Expense: $75.3Â million
26 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies (which include fixed-route bus service and paratransit service, as well as the TD Late Shift and Direct Connect services) can be found on the agencyâs website, https://psta.net/. The Challenge PSTA was seeking to cost-effectively use its resources to provide an attractive public transpor- tation option for workers of late shifts and minimize the impacts of cutting two low-performing routes on the riders relying on them. Approach to Addressing the Challenge TD Late Shift PSTA operates the TD Late Shift door-to-door service for eligible bus riders who work late shifts when PSTA bus service is not available. Under TD Late Shift, riders who participate in PSTAâs TD Program can pay $9 in addition to the cost of the TD bus pass to receive 25 on-demand trips per month for use to and from late-shift work locations. Direct Connect Direct Connect began when PSTA was trying to cut two low-performing routes following a service redesign. The intent was to reallocate funding for the low-performing routes to higher- performing ones. The PSTA board was not supportive of multiple route cuts, however, so PSTA staff developed Direct Connect to provide on-demand connections to and from PSTA fixed- route service. Direct Connect trips currently are provided by Uber, United Taxi, and Wheelchair Transport. At first, Direct Connect was available in two areas and targeted riders served by the two low- performing routes. Direct Connect originally was set up with a zonal structure. Eligible trips had to begin and end in the zone, and the origin or destination of each trip had to be a transit connection point. PSTA staff taught riders how to use Direct Connect and also used the ini- tial implementation to help the board understand how staff were trying to more efficiently use resources to serve people who need transit. Direct Connect then was expanded countywide, with an operating budget of approximately $150,000. The countywide operation also was divided into zones. The zonal structure ultimately proved to be confusing for riders, and the program was not growing, so PSTA eliminated the zones and established 24 Direct Connect-eligible origin and destination locations, including transit centers. As shown in FigureÂ 6, these were established so everybody in the service area would be near a Direct Connect location. The Direct Connect service works with a coupon code that allows riders to receive a $5 dis- count on the cost of the Uber or United Taxi trip. The minimum Uber trip price was $6 when Direct Connect was launched. Now more than $8, the minimum Uber trip price would be out of reach of many Direct Connect users without a TD grant that allows PSTA to offer a $9 subsidy for eligible riders. The Direct Connect Wheelchair Transport discount is $25 per trip. PSTA staff have been able to map United Taxi pickup/drop-off location data to show that riders are using Direct Connect correctly. This was an important analysis because the board feared that riders would use Direct Connect to jump from place to place instead of using it to reach a bus route. Allowing Direct Connect users to choose between Uber and United Taxi satisfies driver drug- testing requirements. Additionally, the inclusion of United Taxi allows riders to pay in cash and does not require the rider to use an app, which satisfies equity concerns.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 27Â Â Source: https://psta.net/riding-psta/direct-connect Figure 6. Direct Connect locations.
28 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Costs and Benefits of Approach FigureÂ 7 shows trends in TD Late Shift and Direct Connect ridership. For both services, rider- ship grew overall from OctoberÂ 2018 to December 2019. TD Late Shift is grant-funded, with a 10% local match provided by PSTA. PSTA received a grant of $468,000 to cover TD Late Shift and another TD program starting in JulyÂ 2018. A quarterly report indicates that in FY 2018, the average cost of a TD Late Shift trip was $15.14 for ambulatory riders and $30 for nonambulatory riders. It also indicates that TD Late Shift program participants report having access to new job opportunities (e.g., more shifts and hours) and feeling safer traveling to and from work locations. In a survey of program participants, 74% described trip quality as âexcellent,â and 22% described trip quality as âgood.â As noted earlier, Direct Connect is funded by PSTA and currently operates countywide with an operating budget of approximately $150,000. PSTA does not rely on partnerships with other entities to fund Direct Connect. The local MPO is supportive of the program but does not pro- vide funding for it. The city of Tarpon Springs and Florida Health Hospital have developed a small program called Healthy Hop that is modeled after Direct Connect. The city and hospital provide some funding to PSTA as part of Healthy Hop, which provides transport to medical appointments and other life-sustaining trips to seniors. Healthy Hop might be expanded to other cities in the future. PSTAâs paratransit ridership has grown significantly in the past few years, in part because paratransit eligibility is easy to achieve. As PSTA staff talk to residents during ADA assessments, they introduce them to Direct Connect as an alternative to paratransit service. PSTA did not have to hire new staff to implement TD Late Shift or Direct Connect. The pro- grams originally were managed by a single individual in PSTAâs planning department. Now, they are managed by the same individual in PSTAâs operations department. Essential program support comes from the mobility team and customer service staff in the operations department. Uber and United Taxi already had the technology to fulfill their roles, so there was no capital investment required on PSTAâs part. Lessons Learned PSTA staff indicated that establishing a relationship with Uber and resolving data issues (e.g., obtaining the data PSTA needs for program evaluation) was difficult at first. Uber has since evolved to include a transit team, which makes the process easier. PSTA staff indicated that, in Source: Created from PSTA data 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 O ct 2 01 8 N ov 2 01 8 De c 20 18 Ja n 20 19 Fe b 20 19 M ar 2 01 9 Ap r 2 01 9 M ay 2 01 9 Ju n 20 19 Ju l 2 01 9 Au g 20 19 Se p 20 19 O ct 2 01 9 N ov 2 01 9 De c 20 19 M on th ly R id er s Direct Connect TD Late Shift Figure 7. TD Late Shift and Direct Connect ridership.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 29Â Â the past, TNCs tended to promise a lot but could not deliver. Now, they are more realistic, but transit agencies must be patient during negotiations with TNCs. Additionally, it can take a lot of time for a transit agency to get its procurement department onboard. TNC rates vary, and there are many procurement rules and potential legal issues that can make procurements for innovative services difficult. PSTA staff also stated that getting board buy-in for new, innovative programs is very important. They had to make a strong case to get buy-in, and staff eventually were able to cut the two low-performing routes. The development of programs like TD Late Shift and Direct Connect is an iterative process. Neither works exactly as originally envisioned, and PSTA staff think that is okay. The primary changes to TD Late Shift over time consisted of tweaks to operating hours and improvements to internal processes. PSTA staff evolved Direct Connect significantly over a multiyear period and were surprised by how difficult it is to educate people about the program. The staff made a video for the PSTA website to show a person using the Direct Connect app. Marketing Direct Connect also is difficult because there is no ready, captive audience. Case Example 1B: Rio Metro Regional Transit District Theme: Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Keywords: FMLM, job access, procurement Annual Ridership: 927,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 82,000 Agency: Rio Metro Regional Transit District Location: Albuquerque, NM Annual Revenue Miles: 2.2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $36.2Â million Summary Rio Metro Regional Transit District operates the Job Access (Demand Taxi) program through zTrip and the Earn-a-Bike program, in cooperation with Esperanza Community Bicycle Safety Education Center. Both programs provide FMLM connections (which is the subject of Theme #5) but are intended for specific rider markets. Background Rio Metro is the regional transit service provider for three counties in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, region, as well as the operator of the Rail Runner commuter rail service. Information about Rio Metro services is on the agencyâs website, https://www.riometro.org. Rio Metro took over the Job Access program from the city of Albuquerque. The program pro- vides curb-to-curb transportation for low-income residents who need it to access a job location or training. In some cases, riders could take bus service to or from work but not complete the other leg of their trip due to issues such as incompatible bus schedules. As part of Job Access, Rio Metro gives out ABQ RIDE (city of Albuquerque transit service) passes to those riders who can use it one-way. The Earn-a-Bike program originated in conversations between Rio Metro and Esperanza that started before 2013. The purpose of these conversations was to explore how the organiza- tions could help each other achieve their respective missions. Earn-a-Bike originally operated
30 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies in conjunction with a 175-trip transit punch pass. Completing a trip by bicycle provided through the program would allow pass holders to save punches for longer trips and those during hotter months. The Challenge Rio Metroâs challenge was assisting service area residents in accessing job opportunities. Approach to Addressing the Challenge Job Access In Rio Metroâs coverage area, employment sites are spread out. Job Access riders tend to work at call centers, the airport, and casinos. To help these riders travel to and from these jobs, Rio Metro initially investigated scooter- and bike-sharing programs but opted to pursue taxi or TNC partnerships to provide on-demand FMLM job access. Rio Metroâs initial contracts for on-demand, FMLM for Job Access program participants were geared to taxis. Rio Metro staff also wanted the contracts to appeal to TNCs, so the agency replaced its initial 4-year contracts and request-for-proposals (RFP) process with an open request for qualifications (RFQ) that offered increased flexibility. When Rio Metro took over Job Access from the city of Albuquerque, program operations were contracted to Yellow Cab. A year ago, Yellow Cab was bought out by zTripâa hybrid TNC/ taxi company that uses fully electronic communications and other new technologies to manage its operations. Rio Metro staff continue to work out issues with zTrip. Earn-a-Bike The Earn-a-Bike partnership with Esperanza uses bicycles that are donated to the bike shop. If bicycles are left on buses and not claimed, they are donated to Esperanza, where they are repaired as needed. Donated bicycles also come from agencies such as Goodwill. Earn-a-Bike participants receive one of these bikes after completing free one-time riding safety and bicycle maintenance classes. They also receive a free bicycle helmet and are welcome to take refresher classes at their leisure. Classes take place once a month at Esperanza, and par- ticipants must register in advance. Rio Metro pays for taxi service to get applicants to and from the classes. Participants typically learn about Earn-a-Bike when they apply for the Job Access program. In 2015, a question was added to the Job Access application to gauge interest in bicycle assistance with transportation. For applicants interested in receiving a bicycle, Rio Metro staff provide more program information and Esperanzaâs contact details. Participants also learn about Earn- a-Bike from Rio Metro staff presentations at job fairs. Rio Metro staff do not have regular program meetings with Esperanza but check in periodi- cally to ensure the bike shop has bicycles and capacity to support new applicants and see how many classes are being offered and if they are full. Because Esperanza is a small organization, it is important to ensure staff are not overwhelmed by program demand. Costs and Benefits of Approach TableÂ 11 summarizes two fiscal years of data on Job Access program annual rides, budget, and participants.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 31Â Â Job Access funding originally was federal Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) money. Currently, Rio Metro uses Section 5307 funding to cover the entire cost of new-user trips for the first 60Â days. After 60Â days, participants pay $1 to $2 cash (based on household income) for each one-way ride with a meter reading of up to $20, as long as the applicant maintains employment. If the final meter reading exceeds $20, the participant pays the difference, in addition to the $1 to $2 fare. After 6Â months, Rio Metro recertifies participants to ensure they are still eligible. Job Access is operating in only one county right now. Rio Metro took steps to work with an additional county, but the local taxi company closed, which means Job Access can work in that county only if zTrip has the capacity (including drivers) to cover it. Funding also limits the size of the Job Access service area. There have been no formal studies of Job Access performance, but Rio Metro tracks Job Access ridership monthly. This is easier to do with zTrip than it was with Yellow Cab, due to the formerâs more extensive use of electronic communications and operations management tech- nologies. Job Access ridership data for JulyÂ 2019 through AprilÂ 2020 are provided in FiguresÂ 8 and 9. The March and AprilÂ 2020 data in the figures might be reduced due to the 2020 pandemic. Initially, the Job Access program was managed by one Rio Metro staff person, then by one full-time and one part-time staff person. Currently, it is managed by one full-time staff person and backed up by a cross-trained special projects planner. Through Earn-a-Bike, âa lot of peopleâ have received bicycles and are very thankful for them. Lessons Learned According to Rio Metro staff, using the right type of procurement process is important. You have to know what you want to make sure you use the right procurement process. Rio Metroâs Fiscal Year* Rides Budget Participants FY 2020 8,604 $382,000 517 FY 2019 8.583 $382,000 464 *July 1 to June 30 Source: Rio Metro Table 11. Job Access program statistics. Source: Created from Rio Metro data 0.0 5.0 10.0 15.0 20.0 25.0 30.0 35.0 Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun FY2019 FY2020 Figure 8. Job Access programâaverage daily ridership.
32 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies original RFP process for Job Access resulted in 4-year contracts and was not flexible enough to add other transportation providers if needed. The application process for a program such as Job Access should be as easy as possible. Rio Metro staff try to simplify the application form at each update, but getting complete applica- tions still can be challenging. For example, applicants can be confused by some of the requested items (e.g., reporting household income when an applicant lives in a group home). To minimize confusion, Rio Metro staff work individually with applicants and their employers to understand and complete the application. For example, Rio Metro staff ensure applicants understand what Earn-a-Bike program questions mean, while staff emphasize that the classes, bicycle, and helmet are provided free. Applicants respond well to the one-on-one attention. Rio Metro staff recog- nize that applicants often are stressed about finding reliable transportation, especially to and from a new job, so staff try to facilitate and approve everything before the applicantâs start date. Rio Metro staff also actively seek feedback on the application process and materials. One of Rio Metroâs most significant partners, Goodwill, provides a lot of people jobs and referrals to Job Access. Program information also spreads by word of mouth, and Rio Metro gets many applications from call centers and food banks. Additionally, people often see co-workers participating in the program and ask about it. Source: Created from Rio Metro data 0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 7.0 Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun FY2019 FY2020 Figure 9. Job Access programâpassenger trips per vehicle revenue hour. Summary Southwest Iowa Transit Agency (SWITA) partnered with different employers (typically manufacturing plants) to implement âwork routesâ that operate 24Â hours a day, 7Â days a week. Work-route ridership tripled from FY 2015 to FY 2020. Theme: Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Keywords: job access, service design Annual Ridership: 516,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 102,000 Agency: Southwest Iowa Transit Agency Location: Atlantic, IA Annual Revenue Miles: 1.6Â million Annual Operating Expense: $3.2Â million Case Example 1C: Southwest Iowa Transit Agency (Region 13)
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 33Â Â Background SWITA provides public transportation service (including fixed-route bus and taxi service) for eight counties in southwest Iowa. Information about SWITA services is on the agencyâs website, https://www.swipco.org/transit-swita. The Challenge SWITA faced declining ridership due to a changeover to managed care organizations, as well as sheltered workshops that were restructured and, in some cases, discontinued due to the implementation of 2019 sunsetting rules. These changes contributed to a loss of approximately 40,000 annual trips. Approach to Addressing the Challenge SWITA, which already was operating a work route connecting Atlantic and Council Bluffs to Shelby, decided to expand the work-route program. To develop new work routes, SWITA staff started with a map of its eight-county region. They identified employers that might need transportation for their workers and set up meet- ings with them to discuss how they were supporting employee transportation and other options that could be available to them. Among the first such employers approached was a staffing agency that used minivans to take employees to and from work in Oakland but did not want to be in the âtransportation businessâ if there were other options. SWITA worked with the employer to develop a work route, which provides around 30,000 rides per year. It started with 20-passenger buses and now uses buses that accommodate 40 passengers. After realizing that a significant part of the routeâs mileage was deadhead, SWITA and the employer decided to transport manufacturing plant cleaning staff at an offset schedule. This model has worked well and has become SWITAâs model for other routes. Some of the employers questioned why they were being approached and how work routes could benefit them. A subset of these reached out to SWITA later. Some of the work routes are based around informal park-and-ride lots. This is because SWITA groups riders so that a given work route does not have to make more than two pickups. The farther someone has to travel to work, the more likely he or she is to use transitâunless the trip is excessively long. SWITA staff have found that trips that take longer than 1.25Â hours and/or have more than two to three stops are not attractive to riders for whom the route is intended. Costs and Benefits of Approach Employers pay 100% of costs for the Menards work route. The Uptown Staffing/OSI work route is funded by employees, who pay $7 for a roundtrip of more than 30Â miles. The fare for the Atlantic/Oakland/OSI route is $4 per roundtrip. The Monogram/Harlan work route is funded partly by payroll deductions. Each work route is designed around the employerâs needs, and adjustments are made as needed. SWITA has used economic development grants to offset costs temporarily. Work route buses were purchased with federal funds, and revenues include state, federal, contract, and farebox revenue. SWITA staff report that the agency is âpretty closeâ to breaking even. Some of the newer routes started as tests. The agency can lose funds trying test routes, but these are deemed worthwhile.
34 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Ridership increased from 25,000 rides in FY 2015 to a projected 70,000 rides in FY 2020 (pre- pandemic). To meet future demand increases, SWITA will need to buy larger-capacity buses. Before the 2020 pandemic, the 40-seat buses were adequate for all but one work route. SWITA usually operates one bus per route. SWITA reports that the more employers find out about the work routes, the more interested in them they become. A busload of 40 is the equivalent of a plant production line, so having reliable employee transportation has a direct positive impact on the employerâs bottom line. Human resources (HR) departments tell SWITA that reliably transporting employees to work is one of their biggest issues, and the time spent facilitating transportation translates into more hours worked by the employees. Additionally, work routes have turned out to be an inexpensive recruiting tool. To implement the new work routes, SWITA had to hire new drivers but no additional admin- istrative staff. Recruiting drivers for some shifts can be a struggle, particularly because they must have a commercial driverâs license (CDL). SWITA did not need any additional technology to plan and operate the new work routes. SWITA staff indicate that setting up the routes is not too complicated, though it requires time, effort, and a commitment to work extensively with the employer. Most of the work is performed before the route is launched, including test runs to verify travel times. Following route launch, SWITA staff touch base with the employer every couple of months. SWITA staff report that riders value the work routes, which are considered reliable, safe, and comfortable. Those using the work routes for 90 days can have an official letter written by SWITA staff to help them request auto insurance discounts because of lower private vehicle use. Lessons Learned SWITA has found that HR departments at area plants are always in favor of work routes, but higher-level managers usually need to be convinced in areas such as economic benefits. Accord- ingly, SWITA has learned to coordinate in advance with HR staff on data to support estimates of how many employees would have access to reliable work transportation and the volume of lost work hours that could be reclaimed. SWITA staff advise that going into the âwork route businessâ requires commitment. You have to be willing to proactively reach out, make your case, and be told âno.â Many times, employers declining work routes changed their minds after learning how they can benefit and seeing that SWITA does not work to develop such routes to make money, but provide service and value to the community. SWITA staff also advise that you cannot be afraid to test new work routes, noting that some newer ones started as tests. Case Example 1D: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Theme: Service Innovation, Tailored Services, and Marketing Keywords: ADA, cost reduction Annual Ridership: 2.5 million Annual Revenue Hours: 85,000 Agency: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Location: Flagstaff, AZ Annual Revenue Miles: 1.2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $7.8Â million
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 35Â Â Summary NAIPTA, known as Mountain Line, has undertaken several innovative programs in recent years to increase ridership and bolster community involvement. One of these is a taxi subsidy program to provide mobility options for ADA paratransit riders within Mountain Lineâs service area, which coincides with the Flagstaff MPO planning area. Background Mountain Line is the public transit system serving Flagstaff, Arizona. Northern Arizona Uni- versity (NAU) is located in the study area and generates substantial transit ridership. Informa- tion about Mountain Line services (which include fixed-route bus, paratransit, taxi, and vanpool programs) is on the agencyâs website, https://mountainline.az.gov. Additional background information provided by Mountain Line is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge Mountain Line wanted to provide mobility options for ADA paratransit riders while reducing overall costs for such transport. Approach to Addressing the Challenge In 2011, Mountain Line introduced the Mountain Line Taxi Voucher Program, a taxi-based alternative service for its ADA paratransit customers. ADA paratransit customers who signed up could purchase a limited number of vouchers valued at $10 to $20. Participants pay 20%, with the remaining 80% sponsored by Mountain Line. Riders could call any of six taxi companies, some of which had wheelchair-accessible vehicles. The program goal is to provide an on-demand mobility option so ADA paratransit cus- tomers can: â¢ Make same-day trips not possible with the advance-reservation restriction of ADA paratransit. â¢ Make longer trips, including those beyond city limits. â¢ Have a transportation option 24Â hours a day, 7Â days a week. In NovemberÂ 2017, Mountain Line transitioned the program from a voucher system to one that uses credit cards and renamed it the Mountain Line Taxi Program (though riders now have more carrier types to choose from). The credit cards Mountain Line issues to applicants are restricted to the merchant category code for passenger transportation. In Flagstaff, this includes not only the six taxi companies that participated in the voucher program but Uber, Lyft, and even national and regional intercity bus companies. The card-based system has reduced staff hours spent on the program and improved ease of use for customers. Once a month, riders can request that the agency load its subsidy onto their card. By credit/ debit card or cash (in person), riders pay Mountain Line their 20% share of the cost of future trips. The program-wide maximum subsidy that Mountain Line is willing to contribute is re-evaluated each quarter to ensure the program remains within budget. Costs and Benefits of Approach In FY 2019, the taxi program provided 7,116 trips, at $14.50 per trip. As illustrated in Fig- ureÂ 10, this represents savings of $31.55 per trip that otherwise would have been provided by Mountain Line Paratransit.
36 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Overall, paratransit ridership has remained steady, but taxi program ridership increases yearly. The taxi program has increased mobility for paratransit clients by providing them an alternative service, but because overall ridership has remained steady, large savings have not been realized in the paratransit program. Lessons Learned Mountain Line staff stated that the biggest lesson learned in the transition from vouchers to credit cards was the longer-than-anticipated time required to train and make riders comfortable with the new system. This included additional staff time needed to answer user questions and set up cards. In some cases, staff visited riders at home to do these. Theme #2: Lack of Adequate Funding Case Example 2A: Corridor MPO $14.50 $46.05 $- $10 $20 $30 $40 $50 Taxi Program Mountain Line Paratransit Co st p er T rip Source: Created from NAIPTA data Figure 10. FY 2019 Taxi Program and Paratransit cost per trip. Theme: Lack of Adequate Funding Keywords: coordination, fleet, new funding Annual Ridership: N/A Annual Revenue Hours: N/A Agency: Corridor MPO Location: Cedar Rapids, IA Annual Revenue Miles: N/A Annual Operating Expense: N/A Summary Corridor MPO splits Surface Transportation Block Grant/Transportation Alternatives Pro- gram dollars by mode, which provides a steady funding stream to the local transit agency for the purchase of three buses per year. As a result, the transit agencyâs vehicle replacement needs are smoothed out, and the fleet is safer and more reliable overall. Additionally, if Cedar Rapids becomes a transportation management area (TMA) as a result of the 2020 census, the tran- sit agency will be able to use MPO funding to offset some expected loss of federal funds for operations.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 37Â Â Background Corridor MPO is the regional transportation planning entity for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, region. More information is available at http://www.cedar-rapids.org/local_government/departments_ a_-_f/community_development/mpo/index.php. Cedar Rapids Transit (CRT) serves three communities in the MPO planning area: Cedar Rapids, Marion, and Hiawatha. In 2018, CRT provided 1.4Â million trips and operated 1.4Â million revenue miles and 98,000 revenue hours, at a total operating cost of $9.2Â million. Information about CRT services (which include fixed-route bus and paratransit service) is on the agencyâs website, http://www.cedar-rapids.org/residents/city_buses/index.php. The Challenge In 2008, a major flood devastated CRTâs transit hub. CRTâs fleet was aging before the flood, and retired buses quickly were purchased from another transit agency to get through the recovery. As a result, buses in CRTâs post-flood fleet were past their useful life. CRT then hired a new general manager, who set a goal to upgrade the fleet to a point where buses were driven only within their useful life and replaced regularly. The fleet replacement has occurred since 2008 but has not relied on a steady funding source. Approach to Addressing the Challenge The MPO conducts some planning and public engagement for CRT, which is a city depart- ment. This is not statewide practice in Iowa, but the MPO and CRT have a good relationship and established a formal agreement covering such assistance. In 2016, the MPO used regional funds to pay for a consultant to conduct a transit planning study focused on realigning the entire bus system and adding evening and Sunday service. The resulting plan provided a basis for seeking additional transit funding from city councils in the MPO planning area. It also helped inform the regionâs state-required 5-year passenger transportation plan. In 2018, the MPO hired a con- sultant to study the creation of a regional transit authority (RTA). While the region concluded that an RTA was not feasible, the study led to the formalization of cost-sharing among the three cities in the MPO planning area. The study also supported discussion of how the region should prepare for potential designation as a TMA based on the 2020 Census. Before 2016, the MPO provided some funding to CRT for bus acquisition. The MPOâs 2016 long-range transportation plan (LRTP) split MPO funding by mode so that 80% of federal fund- ing would be funneled to trails and 20% would go to roads. A year later, MPO staff realized they could fund more than trails and roads and proposed dedicating some of the federal funding to transit instead. At first, the transit funding focused on bus stop improvements. The MPO cur- rently is updating the LRTP and decided to retain the modal funding split. Transit receives 18% of total federal funds, which CRT can use to purchase two heavy-duty, fixed-route buses and one medium-duty paratransit bus per year. The priority is funding new rolling stock. Costs and Benefits of Approach CRT has told MPO staff that the new buses are safer and more reliable, comfortable and fuel- efficient. They also require less maintenance. If the region becomes a TMA as a result of the 2020 Census, CRT will receive more federal funding, but its use by CRT will come with restrictions. The LRTP allocation is expected to alleviate the subsequent funding burden by allowing CRT to use more of its nonfederal funding for operations.
38 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Lessons Learned MPO staff recognized that the vehicle purchase program was important and helped MPO board members realize the same. MPO staff accomplished this by stressing to board members the importance of transit over time and making it clear how the vehicle purchase program sup- ports incremental improvements to the transit system. The impact of new buses on communities is more gradual than immediate. Case Example 2B: East Central Iowa Council of Governments/CorridorRides Theme: Lack of Adequate Funding Keywords: coordination, job access Annual Ridership: N/A Annual Revenue Hours: N/A Agency: East Central Iowa Council of Governments Location: Cedar Rapids, IA Annual Revenue Miles: N/A Annual Operating Expense: N/A Summary An innovative funding partnership with Iowa DOT led to the establishment of an express bus route connecting two cities 25Â miles apart to mitigate congestion during a major reconstruction project. Background The East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG) is the regional planning agency for a nine-county region in southeast Iowa. Major cities in the region include Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Through contracts with third-party operators, ECICOG provides regional transpor- tation service under CorridorRides, which currently comprises rural dial-a-ride service, a com- muter bus service, and vanpool and carpool programs. Information about ECICOGâs programs and services is at https://www.ecicog.org and https://380express.com/index.php. The Challenge Multiple ECICOG LRTPs have identified express bus service between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City as an unfunded transit need. In the past 20Â years, ECICOG staff have been involved in at least four relevant corridor studies, three of which looked at light-rail transit (which was deemed cost-prohibitive) and one that recommended express bus. Thus, implementing transit service in the corridor has been a planning focus for several years. Approach to Addressing the Challenge Recognizing that transit service in the corridor would not be implemented without funding, a local coalition requested in 2015 that the state legislature provide one-time funding to complete a commuter study. The funding was declined, but the legislature directed Iowa DOT to complete a study, which it did that year. The study steering committee included ECICOG, the regionâs two
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 39Â Â MPOs, Iowa DOT, local economic development organizations, and local community colleges. By the studyâs conclusion, these entities had formed a strong partnership. Iowa DOT is in the third year of a 5-year interstate highway interchange reconstruction proj- ect on the Interstate 380 corridor between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Local entities urged Iowa DOT to include 100% funding in the project budget for an express bus service connecting Cedar Rapids to Iowa City (i.e., 380 Express) as means of mitigating construction-related congestion. Iowa DOT understood the connection between the construction project and express bus service. According to ECICOG staff, Iowa DOT generally is supportive of transit, but this was the first time funding for a transit project came from the highway side. Costs and Benefits of Approach In its first full year, 380 Express provided 60,000 trips. The service has met the needs of com- muters and reduced construction-related congestion. Commuters have expressed to ECICOG staff that they were surprised to find enjoyment in the bus commute because they can use their time more productively. A University of Iowa contact told ECICOG that some university employees using 380 Express have given up their campus parking passes. Overall, ECICOG is pleased with the serviceâs ridership level. 380 Express is a contracted service, and buses use an existing park-and-ride lot and stops along local transit systems. ECICOG issued an RFP and hired an operator. There were no capital costs for ECICOG, but the organization launched an ad campaign to publicize the service. Buses used by the operator have Wi-Fi and mobile device charging stations, which are not available on other ECICOG buses. Unexpectedly, this provided an opportunity for ECICOG to try new bus technology. Construction funding for 380 Express covers only 5 years, after which ECICOG must find a long-term funding source. Iowa DOT is supportive of continuing the service and has stated that additional work on the interstate corridor is required, and a successful commuter bus service now might result in some funding for 380 Express from the next construction project. Regard- less, funding partners are needed, and ECICOG is beginning those conversations. The serviceâs annual operating budget is $950,000. The University of Iowa emerged as one of ECICOGâs âtrue partnersâ during the 380 Express implementation. The school covers some of ECICOGâs costs through a reduced-fare program for students and staff, to whom it advertises the service. ECICOG reports that several students and university hospital staff use 380 Express. Lessons Learned ECICOG advises that projects such as this must be identified in planning documents and cannot be created or funded âout of thin air.â Staff also advise that good relationships with partners, who might contribute to funding the service, are a must. ECICOG staff interact regularly with Iowa DOT planners and feel fortunate that the state agency has been willing to partner with local agencies over many years. Iowa DOT staff endeavor to maintain contact with cities and counties and partner on local transportation and transit planning projects. In turn, ECICOG staff participate in statewide Iowa DOT meetings. ECICOG also advises talking about transit needs and projects whenever possible. For exam- ple, ECICOG staff made sure that people knew ECICOG had an interest in express bus service on the Interstate 380 corridor and that it was in the LRTP.
40 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Case Example 2C: Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency Theme: Lack of Adequate Funding Keywords: coordination, new funding Annual Ridership: 241,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 52,000 Agency: Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency Location: Manhattan, KS Annual Revenue Miles: 752,000 Annual Operating Expense: $2.3Â million Summary A partnership with the local MPO helped Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency (ATA) find and develop local nontax funding sources. The ongoing process began more than 10 years ago and, in the last 2Â years, the agency was able to increase service levels for the first time. Background ATA is the public transportation provider for Kansasâ Flint Hills region, whose largest city is Manhattan. The region includes two full counties, the western portion of a third county, Kansas State University, and Fort Riley. Information about ATA services is on the agencyâs website, http://www.rileycountyks.gov/1565/aTa-Homepage/. When ATAâs current director joined the organization in 2007, the ATA board instructed her to grow the service. At the time, ATAâs only local funding sources were Riley County and the city of Manhattan. Kansas DOT (KDOT) did not allow for transit service contracts, which would otherwise have been a local matching source. At the time, Kansas State University did not have a transit service but was interested in work- ing with ATA on implementation. They began collaborating on a small demand-responsive service for disabled students. Circa 2009, Kansas State and ATA were able to get the city and KDOT agreement in support of a transit service study. KDOT then was starting to develop âbreakthrough teamsâ to explore regional transit service models and chose Manhattan as a location for one such team. A con- sultant laid out general route alignments, and ATA staff drove the routes to record travel times and refine alignments. To demonstrate the viability of allowing Kansas transit agencies to enter service contracts, ATA picked up Kansas Stateâs taxi-based Safe Ride weekend service as its first service contract. This followed efforts by Kansas State to find a new program vendor. While achieving the ser- vice contract required several months, a study of similar contracts in other states, and FTA involvement, ATA proved that, with university support, it could make a service contract work. Subsequently, Kansas State asked ATA to develop a shuttle service connecting large student housing areas with two university cafeterias. Then, the political environment in Manhattan shifted such that city leadership no longer was supportive of transit in the community, and ATA did not receive anticipated funding or support for locating bus stops in the public right of way. United Way funding helped to tem- porarily overcome the deficit. The Challenge Without local nontax funding and political support, ATA would not be able to sustain the fixed-route system.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 41Â Â Approach to Addressing the Challenge The challenge was addressed through strong, sustained relationship-building by ATA and the MPO. The new MPO director interned at the city during the transit studies and worked at KDOT after graduation. Developing her knowledge of transit and a vision for multimodal transporta- tion in the region, she invited ATA staff to meetings on transportation issues and added the organization to the MPOâs Transportation Advisory Committeeâfirst as a nonvoting member, then one with voting privileges. For the first time, this gave ATA a seat at the table, literally and figuratively, which helped its director develop relationships with city staff. ATAâs direc- tor actively engaged elected city officials on transit and its benefits to the community. She also stressed how her organization manages funding transparently and by the book, calling on ATA auditors to present corresponding evidence. The city decided it did not want to be a Section 5307 direct recipient and put together an interlocal agreement, forming a new entity under the control of the Flint Hills Regional Council to be the direct recipient. ATA later was able to work with the MPO, Fort Riley, Kansas State, city of Manhattan, and adjacent counties to put together another interlocal agreementâone that made the ATA board a direct recipient of Section 5307 funds. A nonprofit organization is the boardâs fiscal agent and controls Section 5311 funds. Costs and Benefits of Approach In part by leveraging the support and advocacy of the MPO, ATAâs budget increased from less than $500,000 in 2007 to more than $2Â million today (including both rural and urban services), as shown in FigureÂ 11. The city currently contributes $129,000 to ATA per year and issues right- of-way permits to allow bus stops in the city. In turn, ATA has managed to get nearly $1 million for ADA accessibility improvements with a match from the city, which would not have been able to afford the improvements otherwise. As a cost-saving measure, ATA and the MPO share a marketing employee. MPO staff include a Google Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and route planning expert. ATA obtained the Remix transit planning tool through a KDOT grant and lends it to the MPO. ATA staff believe that resource sharing leads to less expensive transit planning and better results. Lessons Learned ATAâs director believes that being told ânoâ does not mean the end of the road. Rather, it means you have to find a different road. You must be your own best supporter and understand Source: Created from ATA data $500,000 $2,000,000 + $0 $500,000 $1,000,000 $1,500,000 $2,000,000 $2,500,000 2007 2020 Bu dg et Figure 11. Increase in ATA budget.
42 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies that you cannot effectively advocate for your organization if you do not have as much knowledge as possible. You need to educate yourself by talking to other agencies and community members. Do not assume you know what is needed if you have not gone into the community. ATAâs director advises there are always ways to think outside the box and find funding to meet a given need. There are, for example, many small grant-writing opportunities that support bus wrapping, software purchases, and so on. ATA staff believe transparency has helped them build relationships and show that the agency is credible and doing a good job. Case Example 2D: Missoula Ravalli Transportation Management Association Theme: Lack of Adequate Funding Keywords: coordination, job access, new funding Annual Ridership: 32,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 16,000 Agency: Missoula Ravalli TMA Location: Missoula, MT Annual Revenue Miles: 331,000 Annual Operating Expense: $296,000 Summary Missoula Ravalli Transportation Management Association (MRTMA) partnered with corpo- rate sponsors to find additional funding for vanpool services. The agency also approached urban Section 5307 providers about establishing urban vanpool routes to address the transportation needs of particular shift workers (e.g., after-hours public transportation outside the urban ser- vice area). Background MRTMA helps provide transportation alternatives to residents in three western Montana counties. These include vanpool, carpool, and guaranteed-ride-home programs. Information about MRTMA services is on the agencyâs website, https://www.mrtma.org. The Challenge In the MRTMA planning area, employers needed cost-effective transportation to and from job sites in small rural communities and/or where work shifts occurred at unusual hours. Addi- tionally, certain riders lost transit service to the urban zone when the urban transit operator in the TMA planning area cut an outlying route. Approach to Addressing the Challenge MRTMA operated a vanpool program for about 10 years before the implementation of spon- sored vanpools. Vanpools typically start up when a business owner or employee reaches out to MRTMA to explain his or her needs and inquire about options or MRTMA staff recruit busi- ness owners to participate. The first approach is more likely to be successful, though MRTMA staff have longstanding relationships with the business community that facilitate the second approach.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 43Â Â In one case, a business owner reached out to MRTMA because he followed one of the branded âiRideâ vans (shown in FigureÂ 12) to work every day and thought that vanpooling would be more cost-effective than letting employees use company vehicles for commuting. MRTMA staff worked with the business owner to tailor a program and set up an informal park-and-ride loca- tion for his employees at a warehouse. In another case, an employer headquartered in another state relied on vanpools to support its Montana job sites and knew exactly what it wanted from MRTMA and how to set it up. When employees of such organizations reach out to the agency about vanpooling options, MRTMA staff share the inquiries with the employers and offer to set up a program. Sponsored Vanpools Corporate vanpool sponsorships come into play in situations where a given vanpool does not have enough participants to guarantee it will run when needed. At least five riders are needed for a minivan route and at least nine are needed for a 12-passenger van route. Vanpool sponsoring means a business can buy all the seats in the van or pay any portion of the fares charged. This is a useful option when a business has trouble recruiting employees (e.g., for an unusual shift or a job site in a small rural community) or the businessâ vanpool program is just starting up. It also is beneficial to MRTMA because it smooths out year-to-year changes in vanpool program funding. Urban Vanpool Routes MRTMA staff approached the urban operator, who had cut an outlying route, and suggested urban vanpool routes as an alternative to providing fixed-route bus service in the affected area. Urban vanpool routes serve areas where bus service is limited or nonexistent. If an urban van- pool route is funded by the urban transit operator, the operator reports ridership to the NTD. Costs and Benefits of Approach The state currently funds vans through Section 5311 and congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) improvement programs. The corporate sponsorships allow MRTMA to get an over- match that can be used to build reserves in the event a new vehicle is needed quickly. Currently, vanpools serve about 87 work sites. MRTMA partners have asked the local MPO for CMAQ funding because MRTMA has estab- lished other funding sources for its vanpools. HR staff at other organizations have told MRTMA that the vanpool programs have âdefinitely helpedâ recruit and retain new employees, especially for low-paying shift work at unusual times. Source: https://www.mrtma.org Figure 12. MRTMA iRide van.
44 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies One county participating in the vanpool program started with two routes and now has seven. The âsweet spotâ for urban vanpool routes seems to be when residences and work sites are about 25 miles apart. MRTMA staff anticipate changing their business model to operating more minivans during and after the 2020 pandemic so vanpoolers are not sharing vehicles with people who are not employed at the same work site. Lessons Learned According to MRTMA staff, the best thing they did with their vans was branding them with the iRide logo and a phone number. This has been an effective recruitment strategy because people see the vans on roads everywhere and in parking lots at their work sites. Word-of-mouth recommendations from co-workers also have been an effective recruiting tool. MRTMA staff advise other operators seeking to set up similar programs to reach out to people who express interest, even if they are not in your service area. It is important to learn where they work and what they need so options can be explored with providers. MRTMA partners with other providers in outlying counties for preventive maintenance and guaranteed-ride-home services on vehicles that do not travel into the urban area. Case Example 2E: Shore Transit Division, Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland Theme: Lack of Adequate Funding Keywords: cost reduction, fleet Annual Ridership: 328,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 76,000 Agency: Shore Transit Division Location: Salisbury, MD Annual Revenue Miles: 1.8Â million Annual Operating Expense: $6.6Â million Summary Shore Transit Division is converting its fleet from diesel to gasoline and propane, which will reduce operating costs and adverse environmental impacts. Background Shore Transitâa division of the Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore of Marylandâ provides fixed-route bus service and two types of paratransit service in Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties. Information about Shore Transit services is on the agencyâs website, http://www.shoretransit.org. The current Shore Transit director came to the agency 8Â years ago from the chamber of com- merce, where he developed relationships with many members of the business community. Fuel companies approached him about whether the agency had considered moving away from diesel use in vehicles. The Challenge Electric bus technologies were neither mature at the time nor a fit for Shore Transitâs long- distance, high-speed routes. Compressed natural gas (CNG) would require too much labor at
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 45Â Â night, with refueling taking at least one hour per bus. Running buses on a combination of pro- pane and gasoline was anticipated to achieve desired reductions in operating costs and adverse environmental impacts, with minimal disruption to agency practices and procedures. Approach to Addressing the Challenge A local propane supplier offered to roll the cost of converting buses into the cost of the pro- pane it would provide. The fuel price also would include maintenance. Buses start running on gasoline and switch to propane when the engine reaches a specific temperature. This has little impact on drivers while buses are in service. They might see an indicator when the propane switch occurs and feel a change in how the engine runs, but there is no appreciable difference in bus operation. Shore Transit began the propane conversion with a small number of buses. The agency found some medium- to heavy-duty gasoline-powered buses large enough to meet its needs that already were approved for propane conversion. The propane company oversaw the conver- sions, provided an onsite fueling station, and installed onsite propane tanks. When needed, the propane supplier meets with the transit agency and provides mechanical support. The first propane buses were on the road by the end of 2015. Today, the fleet is 67% dual-fuel and includes seven diesel buses that will be retired within a year or two and seven gasoline models scheduled for conversion in 2021. Ten new gasoline buses scheduled for early 2021 arrival also will be converted. Shore Transit had to convince the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) that transition- ing to a dual-fuel fleet was a good investment. MTA staff, who were skeptical at first, have been pleased with the results. Additionally, MTAâs directorâwho was under pressure to introduce more electric transit vehicles in the stateâwas able to point to Shore Transitâs initiative as a step in the right direction. Costs and Benefits of Approach Shore Transit staff indicate it takes 2 to 3Â days to convert a smaller bus to dual fuel and 3 to 4Â days for a larger bus. Buses that are candidates for conversion must be certified as such. Shore Transit staff report that the technical learning curve was ânot bad at all.â Shore Transit has found its engines burn cleaner and that hiring of or extensive training for mechanics has not been necessary. If a major propane system problem arises, the propane supplier sends a mechanic to fix it. The supplier also trained Shore Transitâs mechanics to undertake minor maintenance tasks. In worst-case scenarios where the propane system fails, buses can use gaso- line as a backup. Shore Transit staff report that propane fuel economy is comparable to that of gasoline and that the addition of propane tanks has significantly increased bus range. Another pro- pane benefit: Leaked propane evaporates, whereas leaked gasoline results in a hazardous- material spill. The conversion project was deemed a win for all involved parties. Shore Transitâs operating costs decreased, administrative costs remained steady, and the transit agency began using a propane-powered forklift. In anticipation of Shore Transitâs continuing fuel needs, the propane supplier invested in a tractor-trailer for fuel delivery. Shore Transitâs riders do not perceive a difference in how the service operates, but governments in the service areaâs three counties like that propane is cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
46 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Lessons Learned Shore Transit staff advise other transit agencies wanting to undertake a similar effort to con- tact local propane suppliers about project coordination. The supplier might be able to contract with other companies on conversion and installation. Shore Transit issued an RFP and received three bids. Shore Transit staff say that if they were to start this project anew, they would be more aggres- sive about the pace of propane conversions because of their strong ROI. Case Example 2F: Mountain Line Transit Authority Theme: Lack of Adequate Funding Keywords: new funding, outreach Annual Ridership: 1Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 69,000 Agency: Mountain Line Transit Authority Location: Morgantown, WV Annual Revenue Miles: 1.3Â million Annual Operating Expense: $4.8Â million Summary The Mountain Line Transit Authority (MLTA) faced a major challenge in the form of sig- nificantly decreased funding. Through effective community outreach and an innovative fare program, transit initiatives that produced $9Â million in 2016 and $8Â million in 2020 were passed by local vote. Background MLTA is the public transportation provider for Morgantown, West Virginia. Morgantown is the county seat of Monongalia County and home to West Virginia University (WVU), which has an enrollment of approximately 32,000. MLTA offerings include route deviation bus ser- vice, paratransit service, a vanpool program, and a volunteer driver program. More information about MLTA services is on the agencyâs website, https://www.busride.org. Morgantown also is home to the WVU-owned personal rapid transit (PRT) serviceâa five-station, 8-mile system that connects WVUâs three campuses with Morgantownâs downtown area and makes about 200,000 trips per year. MLTA benefits from a property-tax levy. The agency implemented the Levy Pass Pro- gram, wherein county residents who pay property taxes directly or indirectly (e.g., apartment dwellers) ride free, under the premise that they already contributed to fare revenue through the levy. Additional background information from MLTA is in Appendix D. The Challenge In early 2016, Monongalia County notified MLTA that its funding would be cut by about $450,000. Much of the local funding was derived from county revenue related to coal mining, and with several mines closing, the source would dry up. Without that level of funding, MLTA would be forced to eliminate service in four areas, reduce service frequency in eight others, eliminate city access to 19 popular areas, cut evening service altogether, and eliminate several weekend routes.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 47Â Â Approach to Addressing the Challenge The alternative to cutting service was to ask county residents to vote for a tax initiative to replenish the lost funds. In February, MLTA requested that the levy measure be put on the MayÂ 10, 2016, primary county ballot because it believed there was a better chance of success than in the general election. This was the first time a property levy would be put on the county ballot. However, there was competition on the ballot from several other entities that also had lost county funds (e.g., firefighters, library, youth baseball, and a parks and trails program). Partnering with a Cleveland-based strategy company, MLTA began campaigning for the levy in March. The effort included phone banks, direct mail, yard signs, bus signs, lapel stickers, a speakers bureau, community endorsements, letters to the editor, a âRed Xâ campaign (in which MLTA put a red X on buses that would be eliminated), flier handouts on buses, billboards, online ads, absentee-ballot chasing, social media outreach, and poll greeting. Coinciding with these efforts were several public meetings that were required because of the impending service cuts. The total campaign outlay was approximately $100,000. For such levies to pass, a supermajor- ity of votes (i.e., at least 60%) is required. The measure garnered 63% favor. The levy revenue, which is based on property tax, brought in approximately $9Â million over 5Â years, or about $1.8Â million per year. MLTA launched a follow-up campaign, placing its âLevy Logoâ on everything the levy funded, including buses and route schedules. See FigureÂ 13 for an example. An effort to bring the levy back to voters in 2020 began the prior year to allow for public notification of impending service cuts. MLTA was restricted from doing any kind of outreach using levy revenue or any similarly funded resourcesâa significant restriction. There was an attempt to develop a political action committee (PAC) for the outreach, but it was not successful. However, the MLTA board came through with a PAC of its own. While moderate, funds raised provided an online presence that contributed to the campaign. Source: https://www.busride.org Figure 13. Example from âLevy Logoâ follow-up campaign.
48 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies One thing that helped the 2020 campaign was the Levy Pass Program implemented a few months before the vote. As described earlier in this case example, the Levy Pass Program was developed by MLTAâs CEO, who came up with the idea while attending a Community Transpor- tation Association of America (CTAA) conference. Program implementation enabled MLTA to bring awareness to local residents and give them something for their support of public transit through the local levy, without actually promoting the 2020 levy. The 2020 levy gained 66.82% voter approval and will bring in $2Â million annually over the next 4Â years. Costs and Benefits of Approach Thanks to the levies, MLTA did not have to cut routes. The agency also was able to use some of the funding to plan for and execute the relocation of its hub and conduct associated service redesign (see Case Example 4I for more information about these efforts). In JuneÂ 2020, nearly 1,000 Levy Pass Program rides were taken. Lessons Learned When asking for a levy, community outreach is everything. Newspapers, radio, and social media can be powerful tools, especially when information focuses on human interest stories. For example, an MLTA assistant manager relayed a story about a route deviation request and mobility training provided to a local radio hostâs daughter, who has developmental dis- abilities and works at WVU. Her parents were greatly reassured when MLTA was able to pick up their daughter in front of her workplace, rather than having her walk to and from the bus route. The campaign also benefited from similar rider stories provided by MLTAâs mobility coordinator. MLTA staff advise keeping an open mind to creative approaches to bolstering support, such as the Levy Pass Program. MLTA purposely did not want to go to a fare-free system entirely, lest it lose revenue from local partnerships (e.g., WVU) and develop a reputation for providing unsupported service. Theme #3: Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Case Example 3A: Manatee County Area Transit Theme: Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Keywords: procurement, technology Annual Ridership: 1.5Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 141,000 Agency: Manatee County Area Transit Location: Bradenton, FL Annual Revenue Miles: 2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $13.2Â million Summary Instead of using specifications-based procurement, Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT) used a unique performance-based option to implement new technology. MCAT also relied on a technology business plan, which was critical to successful technology implementation.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 49Â Â Background MCAT is the department that provides public transportation for Manatee County, on Floridaâs Gulf coast. The largest city in the service area is Bradenton. Information about MCAT services (which include fixed-route bus service and paratransit service) is on the agencyâs website, https://www.mymanatee.org/departments/mcat. MCAT also offers a door-to-door FMLM service that is the subject of Case Example 5A. The Challenge When MCATâs current general manager assumed that role in 2012, the agency had no onboard technology on the fixed-route bus system. The agency previously had sole-sourced a CAD/AVL implementation that did not work. Determined to do better, MCAT implemented a multidisciplinary, phased technology busi- ness plan that went through several iterations through 2014. The agency set aside funding for new technologyâincluding automated passenger counters, interactive voice response (IVR), and onboard mobile gatewaysâwith every budget thereafter to deploy a new CAD/AVL system. Approach to Addressing the Challenge In late 2017 and early 2018, MCAT engaged a vendor to implement CAD/AVL but then stepped back to re-evaluate. A 250-page specifications document did not seem to promote inno- vation and even felt too constraining. Instead, MCAT replaced the original specifications docu- ment with a six-page version that focused on desired outcomes. Once proposers were deemed responsive to the new procurement, MCAT wanted to interview them to see who really could execute the system, asking who can complete the integration and implement single-point logins, among other questions. MCAT wanted to work with companies that have done such thingsâ not just company owners who promise results, but technology people who have delivered them. However, county rules of government did not allow transit agency staff to sit on selection committees as âselectors,â and traditional selectors would not necessarily ask the right ques- tions. MCATâs general manager convinced the countyâs purchasing department to allow him to advise the selection committee by making the case for what transit agency staff need from the CAD/AVL system, not what county information technology (IT) staff want and county lawyers would approve. After all, transit agency staff are the ones who use the technology and, as a result of the technology business plan, knew exactly what they wanted. The technology business plan came about as a recommendation from an IT department director, who had taken that approach with a criminal justice technology business plan in a different county. MCAT used some elements of the criminal justice technology plan as a model, shaping it to provide benefits for the transit agency, county government, and end user. A technology advisory group reviewed several drafts of the plan to mitigate risk. MCAT staff state this is a crucial step with new technologies. Other important plan characteristics were that it had to be created by individuals with expertise in all relevant disciplines and include guiding principles. Costs and Benefits of Approach MCAT staff report that when they got the CAD/AVL procurement right, the agencyâs other technology decisions snapped into place (e.g., mobile ticketing and messaging systems at ter- minals). Even when these systems were provided by different vendors, they came together.
50 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Having an adopted technology business plan in place enabled MCAT to quickly take advan- tage of an opportunity to conduct a mobile ticketing pilot effort at minimal cost to the agency. Staff learned a lot from the pilot effort and transferred that knowledge to the CAD/AVL procurement. MCAT staff report that continued service, technology, and infrastructure improvements resulted in a 10% ridership increase in 2019, compared to an increase of 1% or so at other tran- sit agencies in the region. Lessons Learned MCAT staff advise other transit agencies to look at MCATâs technology business plan and strongly recommend developing a phased technology plan before investing in new technologies. Technology procurements require buy-in from many parties, and the process of developing a multidisciplinary technology business plan can help secure it. At a minimum, you need plan- ning, operations, and IT experts to develop a good transit technology business plan. MCATâs general manager believes that MCAT was fortunate to have the required expertise in house. Smaller agencies might not have such expertise on hand and may need to seek training or other assistance. It can take several years for service, technology, and infrastructure improvements to come together and produce benefits. It was critical to MCATâs success that county leadership trusted MCAT staff to develop the technology business plan, reshape the CAD/AVL procurement pro- cess and participate in the mobile ticketing pilot effort. Case Example 3B: Monroe County Transportation Authority Theme: Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Keywords: cost reduction, technology, training Annual Ridership: 330,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 76,000 Agency: Monroe County Transportation Authority Location: Scotrun, PA Annual Revenue Miles: 1.5Â million Annual Operating Expense: $5.8Â million Summary Monroe County Transportation Authority (MCTA) runs an effective staff training program, and its personnel have served as beta testers for new technologies. Background MCTA is the public transportation provider for Monroe County in eastern Pennsylvania. Information about MCTA servicesâwhich include fixed-route bus, paratransit, and a flex-route feederâis on the agencyâs website, https://www.gomcta.com. The Challenge It can be difficult for small agencies to train staff and keep training up to date. New technolo- gies arrive fast and go through multiple iterations as they mature. The agency has to remain current with each new and updated system.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 51Â Â Approach to Addressing the Challenge MCTA is led by a director and five managers who each oversee a division within the agency. The agency uses a large number of third-party software packages, and the divisions need vary- ing amounts of training on different software packages. The agency has discussed and made decisions about training needs through twice-monthly management team meetings over the past 17Â years. These meetings provide an opportunity for all divisions to be represented in the same room. This is important because division managers can share information on training opportunities and discuss their training needs. Training is more efficient when resources are allocated based on the degree to which it is needed by a given individual or staff position. Additionally, the management team can ensure redundancy in agency trainingâmeaning more than one person knows about a particular software package or has skills beyond orientation-level training. Before the 2020 pandemic, training decisions were made for 90 staff. MCTA communicates with third-party software vendors to learn about available training and seek opportunities for specialized training beyond orientation. The agency takes advantage of online training and sends staff to American Public Transportation Association (APTA), CTAA, and Pennsylvania Transit Association events. Conferences provide networking oppor- tunities with other transit agency staff and vendors. Sometimes, staff are apprehensive about traveling to such events and jumping in, but MCTA leadership encourages them to seek such opportunities. MCTAâs director is very proactive in seeking training opportunities. She maintains relation- ships with other transit agencies and invites herself to spend 3 or 4Â hours with them learning how to address a particular issue. She shares what she learns with her management team and does not hesitate to ask questions of the agencies that contribute data and insights to TCRP reports. She also supports having staff serve as beta testers for technologies that partners such as Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) try. MCTA offers a tuition reimbursement program that enables staff to follow their interests and learn new technologies. Costs and Benefits of Approach The MCTA directorâs proactive approach to seeking training opportunities has made special- ized training available and saved the agency money. For example, Ecolane provided a $9,500 estimate to cover 5Â days of advanced training in house. MCTAâs director contacted PennDOT and argued that the advanced, post-implementation training was essential. PennDOT agreed and provided funding. Lessons Learned Among lessons learned about training transit agency staff from MCTAâs director: â¢ Technology is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. You need to budget for training, find out what others are doing, explore scenarios representing how you might use the technology, commit to training, and use your new skills regularly. â¢ Orientation-level training usually is not enough. â¢ Everyone should complete speed-reading courses, which help staff quickly digest important legislative and grant documents. â¢ People learn best in different environments. MCTAâs director strives to provide the kinds of training that are most effective for each of her staff.
52 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies â¢ Few people possess the interest and skillsets to fully embrace new technology, instead of play- ing with it like itâs a hobby. MCTA leadership tries to identify these people and use that interest to help the agency develop new capabilities. Theyâre usually also good at structuring training for others. â¢ MCTAâs director likes to train people in groups because they approach technology differently and can make suggestions that help others. Case Example 3C: Oregon Department of Transportation Theme: Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Keywords: coordination, technology, training Annual Ridership: N/A Annual Revenue Hours: N/A Agency: ODOT Location: Oregon Annual Revenue Miles: N/A Annual Operating Expense: N/A Summary ODOT uses regional transit coordinators (RTCs) to support transit agencies across the state. ODOT also has invested in access to software tools and other guidance to assist Oregon agencies with transit planning and other challenges. Background ODOTâs Public Transportation Division provides technical assistance, grants, and training to the more than 50 public transportation providers operating in Oregon. More information on the division is at https://www.oregon.gov/odot/RPTD/Pages/index.aspx. The Challenge ODOT is interested in evaluating and improving public transportation service statewide. Approach to Addressing the Challenge RTCs Circa FY 2013, ODOT developed the RTC model. RTCs assist transit agencies with fund- ing, budgeting, contracting, and service planning. RTCs are integrated with ODOTâs road and bridge divisions and can speak for transit at the levels where it most closely impacts transit systems and users. For example, RTCs know where it is possible to get infrastructure such as a bus pullout or transit bridge and are well-positioned to make those opportunities happen. When tools such as Remix came along, RTCs could further capitalize on what they were doing. Each RTC has his or her strengths and uses them to support counterparts in other regions. For example, one RTC might be particularly strong in transit operations, another is talented at finding a local match, and a third is good with tribal relationships. RTCs communicate with each other daily via email and have monthly meetings.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 53Â Â Tools and Guidance Several years ago, ODOT became interested in GTFS data and wanted all transit systems in the state to create and maintain GTFS data for their fixed-route services. In addition to support- ing transit trip planning, GTFS is very useful when employing tools such as Remix to improve transit planning (ODOT was Remixâs first customer). ODOT developed a statewide transit net- work analysis program called Transit Network Explorer Tool (TNExT), which uses GTFS data to support the conduct of transit connectivity assessments and more. An example TNExT map is shown in FigureÂ 14. In the future, ODOT hopes to use GTFS-flex data for demand-responsive transit service and, similarly, GTFS-ride data for ridership. ODOT makes Remix available to all Oregon transit agencies for their transit planning efforts. Before the 2020 pandemic, ODOT conducted Remix training sessions for Oregon transit agency staff every other month. In 2018, ODOT developed a guidance document to assist Oregon transit agencies in conduct- ing TDPs. Smaller transit agencies in Oregon were the documentâs primary audience. Recently, ODOT completed a transit technology assessment pilot, for which it hired consul- tants to visit smaller transit agencies in the state to review their current technology and develop Figure 14. Oregon transit stop clusters. Source: https://oregon.tnext.io
54 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies written recommendations for technology investments. This was driven by ODOTâs general sense that small and mid-sized transit agencies sometimes procured technology that did not fit their needs. The main lesson ODOT learned from this effort was that Oregonâs transit providers have varying levels of technological ability. Ideally, each provider would be aware of the tech- nologies in use or being implemented around them so they can coordinate, share lessons learned, and collectively maximize the value of their technology investments. Moving forward, it is likely that ODOT will require such coordination in grant agreements. Annually, ODOT holds the Oregon Public Transportation Conference. RTCs alternate offering regional training on grant management or solicitation training year to year. RTCs take technical assistance calls on a near-daily basis. Some RTCs hold periodic regional conference calls, as do area commissions on transportation in some regions. Every 2 to 3Â years, ODOT staff conduct on-site compliance reviews to help transit agencies prepare for FTA triennial audits. The most common finding in these reviews is that agencies are not adhering to preventive maintenance schedules. Costs and Benefits of Approach Among examples of successful outcomes of ODOTâs investments in the RTC model and transit data and analysis tools: â¢ A rural transit provider had more demand-responsive ridership than it could sustain and was at risk of shutting down. An RTC helped the provider restructure contracts, explore flex-route options to manage overall costs, and obtain an emergency grant to address vehicle breakdowns. ODOTâs GTFS tools were used to help find solutions. â¢ An RTC helped a rural transit provider use Remix to develop a flex-route service that resulted in increased ridership. Lessons Learned ODOT staff advise that sometimes, a good transit planning tool will allow you to make bad decisions if you do not have sufficient knowledge about the tool going in. Thus, training is critical. State DOTs need to build relationships with the transit agencies they support. Case Example 3D: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Theme: Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Keywords: coordination, cost reduction, technology Annual Ridership: N/A Annual Revenue Hours: N/A Agency: PennDOT Location: Pennsylvania Annual Revenue Miles: N/A Annual Operating Expense: N/A Summary The paratransit scheduling software products used by the shared-ride services in Pennsylvania consisted of a mix of different systems that bred inconsistencies in reporting and comparisons and limited ease of service coordination across county lines. To solve this challenge, enhance
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 55Â Â productivity, reduce the cost of paratransit scheduling through economies of scale, and improve support, PennDOT entered into a contract with Ecolane via a competitive procurement to install its paratransit scheduling software throughout the commonwealthâs shared-ride services (except for such services in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Installations occurred from 2012 to 2018, during which PennDOT piloted one-click software that was integrated with Ecolane and has since embarked on a statewide purchase of fixed-route intelligent transportation systems (ITS) software. Background In Pennsylvania, there are 34 local fixed-route systems and 44 agencies with shared-ride para- transit systems covering 67 counties. Pennsylvaniaâs Act 44/Act 89 funds, supplemented by Section 5311 funds for rural providers, fund the fixed-route services, while PennDOTâs Senior Shared Ride and Rural Transportation for Persons with Disabilities programs fund the shared- ride services. In total, PennDOT supplies these agencies more than $1.5 billion. The Challenge PennDOT was challenged by the many different paratransit scheduling systems that were supporting shared-ride services in the state. There was a wide range of experiences at the local level that ultimately led to inconsistencies in reporting. Some of the software products being used could not generate the reports PennDOT needed and, in some cases, the reports treated common data differently. Because PennDOT ultimately funded local software purchases, it con- cluded that a statewide purchase would cost less and meet its needs and those at the local level. Also, because PennDOT initiated other customer-facing technology projects, it was felt that a common platform for scheduling software would facilitate the regionalization of county-based programs and statewide installation of and integration with other new technology initiatives. Approach to Addressing the Challenge To address these challenges and opportunities, PennDOT conducted a survey of its shared- ride providers in 2011. PennDOT compiled a list of collective needs from the survey responses, developed an RFP, and conducted a competitive procurement, eventually selecting Ecolane in 2012. The procurement included a statewide software license, related hardware such as in-vehicle tablets, specialized reports that both PennDOT and some of the local systems needed, and a statewide software maintenance agreement that provided for various levels of support and automatic upgrades (but not new modules). Dynamic scheduling was included in the base package. The first installation occurred in 2012, and the final was completed in 2018. During this period, PennDOT also retained a consultant to develop a mobility-as-a-service (MaaS)-type one-click software system that would integrate with Ecolane and enable customers to search for services, plan trips, and, where feasible, book those trips. This one-click software system (dubbed FindMyRidePA and illustrated in FigureÂ 15) was successfully implemented in a pilot area. Plans are underway to expand this software and integration statewide, with facilita- tion by Ecolane installations. With the success of the Ecolane installations, PennDOT conducted a similar statewide procurement of ITS software for its fixed-route systems in 2018, choosing software from Pennsylvania-based Avail Technologies. Availâs software offers CAD/AVL, video surveillance, real-time passenger information, scheduling software, and transit planning software, among other components. Avail also implemented its myAvail software, installing and integrating all necessary hardware components to create a seamless technology platform.
56 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Due to the scope and complexity of Availâs systems, along with lessons learned from the previous Ecolane deployment, implementation was broken into several phases. The first phase featured technology implementation at four beta sites to test the implementation method and process. With the completion of the beta tests, the Avail and PennDOT project teams identified areas in the software that required improvement, then conducted implementations for four more transit agencies. The software will be installed at the remaining 24 agencies by 2023. It should be noted that the transit agencies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh already had ITS soft- ware with which they were comfortable. Costs and Benefits of Approach The cost to license and deploy Ecolane statewide was about $24Â million. The initial creation and deployment of FindMyRidePA were made possible by a $2Â million Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative grant in 2011. The enhancements to FindMyRidePA and the creation of an online electronic application for human services transportation were made pos- sible by a $1.2Â million Rides to Wellness grant in 2016. Because data quality varied so greatly and PennDOT had limited analytical capabilities before deployment of Ecolane, it was difficult for PennDOT staff to quantify Ecolane initiative ben- efits. That said, PennDOT staff reported that the statewide installations of Ecolane already have provided unprecedented reporting capabilities and greatly reduced the burden on agencies to provide data and reports to PennDOT. The enhanced data analysis and reporting capabilities Source: findmyridePA.com Figure 15. FindMyRidePA home page.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 57Â Â allow all agencies in the state to make informed decisions to improve service efficiency and effectiveness. Also, the statewide data repository, which was enabled through all agencies shar- ing a single technology platform, enables PennDOT to collect and analyze data for all agencies to better inform statewide public transportation decision-making. In addition, there are examples of local success such as Blair Countyâs Blair Senior Services, which provides more than 120,000 shared-ride services trips in the county. With help from Ecolane software, increases in system efficiency were significant enough to justify considering a fare decrease. At the time this case example was completed, PennDOT still was early in the Avail implemen- tation, so there were no initial benefits to share. Lessons Learned PennDOT staff offered the following lessons learned: â¢ Establishing and enforcing data standards early on is important. Trying to analyze data when users enter different types into the same field (e.g., entering a service type into a funding source field) requires a great deal of work on the analystâs behalf and lowers the immediate utility of the data. Further, data standards can ease the transition from one software system to another, if needed. â¢ To remain useful, a software systemâs development should be at least shaped, if not governed, by users and not driven by market changes. Pursuing the latter may be good for the devel- oper, but if development does not improve the experiences of current users, they may wish to abandon the system. Case Example 3E: Harford Transit LINK/Harford County Government Theme: Lack of Technology and Supporting Staff Keywords: ADA, technology Annual Ridership: 336,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 49,000 Agency: Harford Transit LINK Location: Abingdon, MD Annual Revenue Miles: 849,000 Annual Operating Expense: $4.4Â million Summary Harford Transit LINK overhauled its ADA/senior paratransit service by restarting its routing and dispatching software. The agency restructured vehicle runs so they were more aligned with the demand profile, implemented Routematchâs scheduling optimizer, and learned how to tune scheduling parameters so the schedule accurately reflected how service would be run. The result was a dramatic increase in productivity. For almost the same number of hours, the paratransit service could serve a significantly larger number of trips. Background Harford County, Maryland, is northeast of Baltimore on the northern part of Chesapeake Bay. Its 437 square miles are a mix of rural and suburban areas, with denser development in the larger towns of Aberdeen and Bel Air.
58 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Harford Transit LINK, the county-operated transit system, has three components: 1. A fixed-route transit service. 2. A paratransit system that serves ADA paratransit customers (30% of rides), seniors making general trips (30%), and seniors going to and from senior centers (40%). 3. A taxi voucher system used by eligible riders to travel after hours or complete trips within service hours that would be unproductive for the agency if served by paratransit service. More information about LINK services is on the agencyâs website, http://www.harfordcountymd. gov/213/Harford-Transit-LINK. The Challenge LINK identified a need to improve the productivity of its ADA/senior paratransit service, which was largely manually scheduled. Approach to Addressing the Challenge In February and MarchÂ 2020, LINK improved the use of Routematchâs scheduling optimizer. This included tuning scheduling parameters, revising the run structure (i.e., vehicle run start and end times), and adding three new vehicle runs to better mirror the temporal demand profile. In addition, LINK staff received additional training from Routematch so they could perform future informed modifications to scheduling parameters. Costs and Benefits of Approach Almost immediately, the paratransit service realized a 16% ridership increase as additional capacity opened due to improved scheduling and more shared rides. There also was a reduc- tion in revenue vehicle miles and hours. Together, these resulted in significantly improved productivity. Lessons Learned LINK staff shared several lessons learned as they overhauled their paratransit system. These are: â¢ Use your tools. â The routing and dispatching softwareâs optimizer will not be of benefit unless staff work with the software vendor to set up and test parameters and configure vehicle capacities. Training key dispatching staff to use the software effectively is critical. â Even when using the optimizer, dispatching staff need to review the manifests to identify additional areas to improve schedules. Patterns of needed attention may suggest further tailoring of system parameters. â¢ Obtain driver and customer input. â Driver input on schedules that work well and those that do not is especially important to this process. Build a rapport with drivers and encourage them to provide input. Such input enables dispatching staff to gain a better understanding of what a driver experiences after a manifest is created. â Ongoing communication is essential. Educate passengers so they understand that improved scheduling means better trip grouping and management of passenger onboard time. â With the new software, drivers now can add driver input or transcribe client input and feedback, which is utilized to improve future schedules. For example, notes about a rider who relies on an oversized mobility device can be used to ensure that his or her device
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 59Â Â can be accommodated in the future, which impacts scheduling. Drivers also can provide additional time for clients requiring it to board and alight. These two aspects have provided drivers more time in their days, improved on-time performance, and given disabled pas- sengers the space they need. Theme #4: Service Planning/Redesign Case Example 4A: Casper Area Transportation Coalition/ City of Casper Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: coordination, new funding Annual Ridership: 206,100 Annual Revenue Hours: 37,000 Agency: Casper Area Transportation Coalition Location: Casper, WY Annual Revenue Miles: 446,000 Annual Operating Expense: $1.9Â million Summary As an alternative to reducing its fixed-route footprint, the Casper Area Transportation Coalition (CATC) worked with private-sector organizations and charitable foundations to provide rides for low-income and homeless individuals in the Wyoming cities of Casper, Mills, and Evansville. Background The city of Casper is the designated recipient of federal transit grants in the Casper urban- ized area, which also includes the municipalities of Mills, Evansville, and Bar Nunn. The city of Casper contracts management and operations of the transit system to CATC, a 501(c)3 non- profit corporation. More information about CATC services (which include The Bus route devia- tion and CATC demand-responsive) is on the agencyâs website, https://catcbus.com. Additional background information from CATC is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge The service area has large numbers of people who are in low-income households and home- less. This is due in part to a downturn in the local economy, which relied predominantly on oil and coal. As a result, a lot of local businesses went under and left a significant number of people without jobs. Even with the $1 fare for The Bus and the low monthly fare for CATC, some people cannot afford to use transit. Approach to Addressing the Challenge CATC developed a plan to provide free tokens for The Bus or CATC that would be distributed to qualifying low-income people. Eligibility was set at 250% above the federal poverty level for residents. Homeless people would need only a letter from the City Mission homeless shelter. Qualifying individuals would be given a certain number of tokens per month. At first, the ceiling was set at 30 tokens but later was changed to a maximum of 20 per month because of a shortfall in program funds.
60 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies One unique program aspect is how CATC funded it. With local municipalities tapped out from their match, CATC turned to the private sector. CATC applied for and received grants totaling $37,000, as shown in TableÂ 12. Costs and Benefits of Approach The token program funds paid for 25,000 and 59,000 rides in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Beneficiaries included a man who was able to get a job because of the token program. He con- tinues to work today and now buys monthly passes for his work and home commutes. Thus, the token program served as transition assistance. If CATC also were the FTA grant recipient, the private-sector funds would have been used to leverage additional FTA funds. However, because the city of Casper is the FTA grantee, this was not possible. Lessons Learned CATCâs general manager advises the following: â¢ Do not dismiss the private sector as a funding source for transportation programs geared to low-income and homeless individuals. â¢ Keep good records of who tokens were distributed to, along with the number of tokens and date. Case Example 4B: City of Huntsville Public Transit Organization Grant Amount (2019 $) Wells Fargo $12,000 Wyoming Community Foundation $10,000 Episcopal Diocese $10,000 Rotary Club $5,000 Total $37,000 Source: CATC Table 12. CATC private-sector grant awards. Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: outreach, service design Annual Ridership: 742,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 68,000 Agency: City of Huntsville Public Transit Location: Huntsville, AL Annual Revenue Miles: 1Â million Annual Operating Expense: $4.2Â million Summary In 2018, the city of Huntsvilleâs public transportation department redesigned its fixed-route bus and paratransit service. This included service frequency improvements, bus stop consolida- tion and enhancements, simplified routing, and service elimination. The redesign was accom- panied by the implementation of a discounted monthly pass and a new rider smartphone app
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 61Â Â that shows the location of the next bus on the route and its expected time of arrival. In the first 6 months following these changes, ridership increased by 14%, farebox revenue increased by 16%, and the average ride time was reduced by 33%. Background Huntsville Transit is the public transit system in the city of Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville provides fixed-route bus service (Orbit Huntsville) and paratransit service (Access Huntsville). More information about Huntsville Transit services is on the agencyâs website, https://www. huntsvilleal.gov/residents/streets/public-transportation/huntsvilletransit. Additional background information provided by Huntsville Transit is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge Before 2012, the look and feel of public transit in Huntsville were very different than they are today. The system, geared for coverage, consisted of a series of one-way loops with uncoordinated transfers at the downtown transit center. This made it a challenge for riders to travel anywhere on the system in less than an hour. Several riders were served in an out- of-direction fashion, while many transferred only to be confronted with another out-of- direction loop. In addition, the service operated only on weekdays, stopping at 7Â p.m., and ridership was stagnant. In 2012, the agency retained a consultant to complete a route redesign. One of the imple- mented redesign recommendations was to coordinate transfers by having the routes pulse at a downtown transit center on hourly headways, which led to increased ridership. However, because of limited funding, other recommendationsâsuch as replacing the one-way loops with two-way and more frequent linear routes and extending the service spanâwere not imple- mented. The ridership increase eventually plateaued. Approach to Addressing the Challenge Six years later, in MayÂ 2018, Huntsville Public Transit once again retained a consultant to conduct a transit study. It examined existing route design, service levels, ridership performance, fare policy, and bus stop conditions. The study also included â¢ A rider survey (online, plus distribution of more than 1,000 paper surveys). â¢ Townhall meetings at the Showers Center in North Huntsville, downtown library, Southside Senior Center, and downtown transfer platform. â¢ Community stakeholder discussions. The second study was completed in FebruaryÂ 2019. The first recommendation was a multi- phase service improvement plan consisting of comprehensive route restructuring, extended weeknight service, the addition of Saturday service, and frequency improvements on specific routes. Other key recommendations included the development of a fleet replacement schedule, investments in technology, addition and removal of bus stops, new signage, shelter installa- tion prioritization, pedestrian infrastructure improvements at high-use bus stops, creation of a new North Huntsville transit hub at Showers Center, short- and long-term fare policy changes, improved rider information, and rebranding of fixed-route and paratransit services. By JulyÂ 1, 2019, Phase 1 service recommendations were implemented. In conjunction with the JulyÂ 1 service change, the city of Huntsville also installed shelters at the new transit hub at Showers Center. By OctoberÂ 2019, additional adjustments were made to routes 5 and 6 to
62 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies improve on-time performance. Phase 2 service recommendations were implemented in mid- August 2019. In mid-OctoberÂ 2019, the city reduced the price of monthly passes from $38 to $30. Throughout the spring and summer leading up to the implementation of Phase 1 recommen- dations, the city undertook an extensive public information campaign that included disseminat- ing details about the changes via public notice, social media, newspapers, and the cityâs website. Also, the city offered free fares during the new serviceâs first week. One of the challenges that occurred in the initial 2.5 months of operation was on-time perfor- mance. During the implementation phase, drivers ran simulated routes to test timing. However, these simulations were run on weekends, when traffic was lighter, and on-time performance issues with the new service ensued after implementation. Initially, other routes would wait for late vehicles, which exacerbated the problem. As a temporary solution, agency staff decided to release drivers from the pulse transfer point when all but one of the routes had arrived there and serve any leftover transferring riders from the remaining route with a van. This continued through JanuaryÂ 2020. Other tweaks, as recommended by the consultant to reduce route times, subsequently were implemented and solved the transfer point issue. Costs and Benefits of Approach The cost of the second transit study was $90,000, and funding was provided through the MPO. The cost to implement the new service design in full was $450,000. Half of the imple- mentation funding came from Section 5307 operating funds and the other half from the city of Huntsville. This funding included additional operator wages and maintenance costs, as well as one-time startup costs for new bus stop signs, a canopy at the new North Huntsville Transfer Station, bus stop shelters and other infrastructure improvements, and rebranding efforts. Other improvements, such as the new mobile app, were included as part of the transit systemâs normal operating and capital budget. A comparison of system ridership between the second halves of 2018 and 2019 reveals a 14% increase in total boardings and monthly gains of 8% to 19%. A comparison of fare rev- enue between the second halves of 2018 and 2019 reveals a 25% increase in ticket revenue and a 14% increase in farebox revenue (which was consistent with the ridership increase), for an overall increase of 16%. This is summarized in TableÂ 13. A primary goal of Phase 1 service changes was to maximize route directness to reduce travel time for transit riders. A comparison of average rider trip length from OctoberÂ 2018 to October 2019 revealed a 33% decrease, from 21Â minutes to 14 minutes. A key finding of the 2018 rider survey was that most riders transfer downtown to reach their destination. Therefore, total travel time for riders transferring downtown was reduced from 52Â minutes to 38Â minutes. Lessons Learned One mistake the city made in route simulation during the implementation phase was timing routes over the weekend (when there was less congestion) and adding 20 seconds per stop. The Fare Type 2018 Fare Revenue 2019 Fare Revenue Percentage Increase Ticket Sales $29,380 $36,622 25% Farebox $109,699 $125,245 14% Total $139,079 $161,867 16% Source: Huntsville Transit Table 13. Fare revenue changes.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 63Â Â cityâs transit manager stated that if they had to do it over again, they would run the simulations during the week, particularly during the 4 to 6Â p.m. time slot. The cityâs transit manager mentioned that the city had hired and trained many new drivers and believed that the driver training curriculum was comprehensive and effective. This turned out not to be the case, as there were 14 accidentsâsome preventableâin the first month of service. Transit supervisors ascertained that some of these accidents had resulted from a lack of driver experience combined with struggles to get back on schedule. In response, retraining efforts focused on âsafety before scheduleââgetting into and out of stops more carefullyâand maintaining a 360-degree safety buffer. The city has since improved this part of its training for new drivers. He also commented that while fare-free rides offered during the new serviceâs first week were an attractive marketing strategy, they can be a double-edged sword if too successful. In Hunts- ville, ridership during that first week soared to the point where some riders were left behind at stops because there was no room on the bus. The lesson learned was to have standby buses or vans available for rider overflow. Case Example 4C: Coastal Regional Commission Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: coordination, cost reduction Annual Ridership: 217,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 106,000 Agency: Coastal Regional Commission Location: Georgia Annual Revenue Miles: 1.8 million Annual Operating Expense: $4.1Â million Summary Facing a need for regional travel and three different systems/mechanisms for providing rural public transit, coordinated human service agency transportation, and Medicaid NEMT, the Coastal Regional Commission (CRC) in Georgia formed a 10-county coordinated regional rural transit system. Background CRC is a multicounty planning and development agency that serves 10 counties and 35Â cities in the coastal region of Georgia, which has a total land area of more than 5,100Â square miles. In 2009, CRCâs Transportation Services Department established a coordinated human service and rural public transit system, branded Coastal Regional Coaches, across the region. County boundaries are virtually eliminated under this program, which allows passengers to travel regionally. The Coastal Regional Coaches system encompasses both rural public transit and coordinated human service transportation. More information on the system is at http:// coastalregionalcoaches.com/CRC/Home.html. Additional background information provided by CRC is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge Georgia DOT (GDOT) directly funds urban transit systems in the state. In the coastal region are two urban transit systems: Chatham Area Transit in Savannah and Hinesville Transit. Before the formation of Coastal Regional Coaches, public transit services were constrained by
64 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies municipal boundaries, limiting rural public transit riders to local trips. However, the CRC estab- lished that there was a huge unmet need for regional travel. At the same time, the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) organized Georgia into 12 regions for coordination of human service agency transportation, various social ser- vice block grants, and more. In addition, through an interagency agreement, responsibility for Section 5310 funds (which are for transportation of seniors and persons with disabilities and used by Georgia for contracting service) was transferred from GDOT to Georgia DHS. Hence, Section 5310 funding also was mixed in with funding for regional coordinated transportation. For the coastal region, Georgia DHS sends this funding to its regional office in coastal Georgia. It is DHS regional staffâs responsibility to determine funding allocation. The region also has two other human service agency transportation services. Approach to Addressing the Challenge The CRC decided to establish a regional advance reservationâa demand-responsive system expressly designed to meet regional rural public transit travel needs and provide a regional coordination point for DHSâ human service transportation. This way, the regional DHS office would need to contract with only one entity, the CRC, which would set up a centralized call center for requesting transportation and procure and oversee a coordinated network of service providers. With the formation of Coastal Regional Coaches, GDOT also chose to funnel its Section 5311 funding for rural public transportation through CRC. With this decision, all FTA funding for rural public transit and transportation of seniors and persons with disabilities, along with all DHS funding through its coordinated transportation program, was being administered in the 10-county area solely by the CRC through its regional transportation network. Because GDOT and Georgia DHS both go through CRC, and because CRC created a regional coordinated network of providers, a rural transit general public rider whose trip is funded by GDOT and a senior or person with disabilities whose trip is funded through DHS could ride on the same vehicle. Costs and Benefits of Approach Because it coordinates rural public transit, human services transportation, and private con- tract services with one fleet of vehicles, CRC has been able to generate efficiencies such as better utilization of resources and expansion of transportation options. This has been achieved in part by effective trip scheduling covered by different funding sources on the same vehicle and by having a larger pot of trips, as the CRC also procured competitive rates among its network of service providers. This way, CRC funding from GDOT and GDHS has been stretched to provide additional trips in the coastal region. Moreover, regional service enables more people to find out-of-town destinations for work, medical care, and shopping, which has contributed to their well-being and boosted the regional economy. Lessons Learned According to CRC staff, the key to operating a responsive and cost-efficient rural transit system is developing a schedule that responds to the regionâs customer needs. This is reflected in trip schedules for employment, medical issues (e.g., dialysis treatment), and seniors.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 65Â Â Case Example 4D: Gaston County ACCESS Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: cost reduction Annual Ridership: 107,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 30,000 Agency: Gaston County ACCESS Location: Gaston County, NC Annual Revenue Miles: 490,000 Annual Operating Expense: $1.8Â million Summary Gaston Countyâs ACCESS Central Transportation faced the prospect of losing Medicaid NEMT revenue. The agency carved out the NEMT trips from its own service and chose to repur- pose its overflow service to focus solely on NEMT. In doing so, ACCESS not only saved money through Medicaid-denied payments but opened capacity on its in-house service to accommo- date an underserved general public demand. Background Located due west of Charlotte, North Carolina, Gaston is the seventh-largest county in the state, with a 2019 population of 224,529 spread over 356Â square miles. Its county seat is Gastonia, which has its own transit system called Gastonia Transit. Also operated by the county, ACCESS Central Transportation functions throughout the county beyond Gastonia. More information about ACCESS services, which include route deviation service and paratransit service, is at https://www.gastongov.com/government/departments/health_and_human_services/ social_services/access.php. Additional background information provided by Gaston County is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge Gaston County retained a private carrier, American Alternative Services, to handle over- flow trips. As demand increased, a second overflow carrier, Carolina Specialty Transportation, was added in 2016, followed by a third, Connexion Transportation, in 2018. In SeptemberÂ 2018, however, the state changed how NEMT service providers were paid, centralizing payment through its new NCTRACKS system. When this happened, Gaston County no longer acted as the stateâs fiscal agent. While the county continues to receive and assign NEMT requests, it now has its three contractors focusing solely on NEMT trips, with payment provided by NCTRACKS and not by the county. The silver lining of this new arrangement was that it opened capacity on ACCESSâ demand-responsive service and saved the county approximately $150,000 per year in denied payments while removing the county as the middleman for contractor payments. Approach to Addressing the Challenge With the realized savings, Gaston County expanded its route deviation service by one hour. The county also implemented a second deviated fixed route, though it proved less successful and was discontinued. However, because of the additional capacity that opened, ACCESS was able to accommodate more rural general public, elderly, and disabled travelers without needing
66 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies overflow carriers. The county also was able to arrange for more direct transportation to congre- gate meal sites for the areaâs growing senior population. Costs and Benefits of Approach The changes resulted in increases of noncontract trips of 40% in FY 2019 and 68% in FY 2020 (before the 2020 pandemic). Non-NEMT contract ridership increased by 10% in FY 2019 and 69% in FY 2020 (pre-pandemic). This was done largely with the same budget. Meanwhile, the cost of contract trips was reduced from $535,000 to $125,000, as shown in FigureÂ 16. This trans- lated into savings of $410,000. Extended hours of the route deviation service allowed several college students to travel from Gaston College to the Gastonia Transit transfer facility. In addition, residents living in âfood desertsâ in and near the city of Gastonia were able to travel to the farmers market to access fresh produceâa county strategic planning goal to combat obesity and food insecurities. Lessons Learned Gaston County staff offered the following lessons learned: â¢ Work with your countyâs public health and social services departments to determine com- munity needs. â¢ Develop community relationships with private-sector vendors, colleges, and other govern- ment transit agencies that might come in contact with your agency. This opens a greater network of transit partnering opportunities. â¢ Use private-sector resources when opportunities present themselves and do not be afraid to give up revenue streams to the private sector when they could better meet a growing demo- graphic or unmet need within your community. Case Example 4E: Harford Transit LINK/Harford County Government Source: Created from Gaston County ACCESS data $535,000 $125,000 $0 $100,000 $200,000 $300,000 $400,000 $500,000 $600,000 FY2019 FY2020 Co st Figure 16. Cost of contract trips. Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: coordination, outreach, service design Annual Ridership: 336,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 49,000 Agency: Harford Transit LINK Location: Abingdon, MD Annual Revenue Miles: 849,000 Annual Operating Expense: $4.4Â million
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 67Â Â Summary Faced with a fixed-route system that lacked efficient connections and experienced a ridership reduction, Harford County accelerated implementation of a new route design that, through a reduction in headways from 90Â minutes to 60Â minutes, significantly increased ridership while reducing ride times through timed-transfer points. The innovative aspect of this case example was how implementation efforts included routing assistance from MTA, partnerships with county economic development and housing departments, help and buy-in from bus drivers in validating route timing, and assistance from a marketing contractor who developed a compre- hensive and effective marketing program. Background Harford County, Maryland, is northeast of Baltimore on the northern part of Chesapeake Bay. Its 437 square miles are a mix of rural and suburban areas, with denser development in the larger towns of Aberdeen and Bel Air. Harford Transit LINK, the county-operated transit system, has three components: 1. A fixed-route transit service. 2. A paratransit system that serves ADA paratransit customers (30% of rides), seniors making general trips (30%), and seniors going to and from senior centers (40%). 3. A taxi voucher system used by eligible riders to travel after hours or complete trips within service hours that would be unproductive for the agency if served by paratransit service. More information about LINK services is on the agencyâs website, http://www.harford countymd.gov/213/Harford-Transit-LINK. The Challenge Using funding from an FY 2016 Section 5304 grant, Harford County retained a consultant to prepare a TDP to directly address several problems: â¢ The systemâs general design and individual routes reflected stops added without schedule adjustments over 8 years. This resulted in an overall design that lacked cohesiveness and vision. â¢ All routes had 90-minute headways. â¢ Transfers were uncoordinated and not timed to pulse. This increased the length of many pas- senger trips that required a transfer. It took one customer 3 hours to go from the Joppa area to Harford Community College. â¢ Scheduling of the eight routes, with one exception, did not permit the driver to have lunch or a substantive break of any kind. â¢ Driver swaps between the a.m. and p.m. shifts required seven transfer buses daily. â¢ Flag stops, as with many smaller and rural systems, were permitted, but riders flagging down buses was so prevalent that buses were stopping at every block in certain areas. This was not accommodated in the schedule. â¢ On-time performance was poor (55% to 60%). â¢ There was a high level of customer dissatisfaction and a high volume of customer service calls related to service issues. â¢ LINK was experiencing a ridership reduction, from 355,027 rides in FY 2016 to 318,574 in FYÂ 2017 (a reduction of more than 10%). In a customer survey conducted as part of the TDP, customers also indicated they desired later service hours on weekdays, weekend service, and improved connectivity to jobs and services outside Harford County.
68 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Approach to Addressing the Challenge The TDP effort was conducted from October 2017 to June 2018. A route development team, composed of drivers and associates, was formed. With help from Routematch staff, new routes were built. Along the way, the county sought routing expertise from the chief of statewide transit development at MTAâs Office of Local Transit Support. Assistance included route mapping and working with the route development team to modify initial TDP recommendations. At this time, discussions also began with Token Transit to set up the fare mediaÂ app. Outreach during and after the TDP effort was as important as the redesign itself. Following the completion of the first phase, staff reassessed how community outreach was to be conducted in the second phase. The resulting more inclusive effort included customer surveys of riders during Dump the Pump Day and Car Free Day, which revealed a need for improved on-time performance, increased service frequency, and extended service hours. With these desires high- lighted, transit staff went forward to reduce headways and extend weekday hours. In fall 2018, new-route building and stop refinement were completed in Routematch, and Token Transit was added to the fare structure. Three public meetings were held, and the TDP was adopted in December 2018. Based on the original implementation schedule, the new-route design was to be implemented in year 3 of the 5-year plan, but Harford Transit LINK chose immediate implementation. Driver tablets were updated with the new routes, and training runs began in December 2018. LINKâs administrator made it a point throughout the process to involve his drivers and give them a stake in the game. Having bought into the process, many of the drivers went out on their own time with preliminary schedules to drive the routesâsome bringing their spouses to record timingâand document what worked and what did not. Results of these tests were discussed at biweekly meetings of the route development team and instrumental in fine-tuning the sched- ules over 2 months. Other drivers provided additional feedback based on their experiences. Altogether, the open discussion and collaborative efforts resulted in a system design and route schedule that garnered signoff by drivers. Drivers also identified where bus stop signs needed replacement or installation. Marketing of the new routes included a new look for the schedules featuring quick-glance route numbers, color-coded routes, a clear linear map, easy-to-read service areas and hours, defined transfer points, streamlined information, and prominent marketing of the two new free apps. The marketing campaign also included fliers showcasing the apps and a new look for bus stop signage that highlighted where transfers could be made. More than 380 bus stop signs were updated. Most popular flag stops were converted to scheduled stops. Advance marketing also included months of repeated Blackboard Connect messages announcing upcoming route changes, which coincided with radio and TV ads, press releases, and social media and web announcements. Brochures were packed in batches for fixed-route drivers to hand out, and drivers encouraged riders to become familiar with the new schedules before launch. Online Blackboard Connect portals enabled riders to sign up for notifications on their specific routes. Overall, Blackboard Connect enabled Harford Transit LINK to provide riders route-specific targeted communication. After implementing the aforementioned changes, the fixed-route system was reduced from eight routes to six. The number of buses operating these routes increased from 10 to 12, and the peak pullout for paratransit service increased from 10 vehicle runs to 14.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 69Â Â Costs and Benefits of Approach During the first few weeks of operations in January 2019, Harford County officials saw immediate and positive results. On-time performance for five of the six routes improved more than 22%, customer service calls decreased by 70%, and no complaints were registered. The most common feedback from drivers was, âWe should have done this 5Â years ago.â One of the new goals, scheduled driver breaks, also was working. While operating cost per trip increased slightly, most of it was due to a concurrent and significant increase in driver salaries to keep the position at a competitive wage. On-time performance now is at least 85% on all routes. Improved reliability, increased route frequencies, and coordinated transfers contributed to a 20% ridership hike within a few months. The Token Transit app and Tap & Pay onboard validators were popular with customers, and driver tablets also led to improved data tracking. Improved connectivity to jobs spurred greater support from human service agencies and the business community and reduced commuter ride times. The previously mentioned rider with the 3-hour trip to the community college now completes the trip in 80Â minutes. Lessons Learned Based on their experiences, Harford Transit staff offered advice on several topics: â¢ Driver task force and trial/training runs â Creating the driver task force was more valuable than first anticipated. It led to greater driver buy-in, especially since drivers knew their colleagues assigned to the task force would do the right thing for the team. â Do not take training lightly. Hours spent training during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Yearâs kept the ultimate goal in sight. Sticking to the meeting and training schedule prevented delivery delays. â Effective outreach and public communication are hugely important. Using cable TV, radio, and community partners ensured conversations were happening in a meaningful way. â Reviewing data from trial and training runs helped significantly toward making neces- sary adjustments. Using driver notes helped staff envision routes and delivery in a more useful way. â During the first few weeks, key LINK staff were assigned to strategic transfer points to help passengers with questions, concerns, and connections. â¢ Partnerships â Partnering with MTA counterparts helped LINK staff through the complexities of planning multiple routes with timed transfers, along with other routing aspects. â Contracting with Routematch to update and create new routes utilized Routematchâs exper- tise and enabled LINK staff to focus on training, outreach, and logistics. â¢ Not taking the âlittle thingsâ for granted â Getting schedules to drivers early and communicating upcoming changes to passengers are key to any transition. â Hand-delivering new schedules to passengers and community partners matched a face with the message. â Assisting passengers with timing, connections, and other service concerns also was key to a smooth transition and customer acceptance.
70 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Case Example 4F: Minnesota Public Transit Association/ Minnesota Department of Transportation Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: coordination, service design Annual Ridership: N/A Annual Revenue Hours: N/A Agency: MnDOT Location: Minnesota Annual Revenue Miles: N/A Annual Operating Expense: N/A Summary At the instigation of the Minnesota Public Transit Association (MPTA), MnDOT retained the service of four consulting firms to help 29 smaller transit agencies in Minnesota with the preparation of 5-year service plans. The genesis of the overall project stemmed from the com- bination of three factors: â¢ The difficulty the 29 transit agencies had articulating exactly how much additional funding they needed to meet local needs. â¢ MnDOTâs nonformula funding of Section 5311 transit providers. â¢ The requirement that transit agencies apply for Section 5311 funding each year when many did not have a plan in place and were not sure of funding levels they would receive. In addition, these transit systems were interested in multiyear operating grants that would provide more stability and enable planning beyond 1Â year. Background MPTA is a statewide coalition of transit systems and transit advocates that provides the latest information on transit activities and in-depth research on key issues, as well as hosts training sessions and events such as the Annual Minnesota Public Transit Conference. MPTA also advo- cates for transit with elected officials at state and federal levels. More information on MPTA is at https://www.mpta-transit.org. MnDOTâs Office of Transit and Active Transportation administers state and federal transit grants, provides technical assistance and guidance to transit agencies in the state, oversees Min- nesota transit agency drug and alcohol testing programs, and operates the Minnesota RTAP. More information on MnDOTâs transit functions is at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/transit/. The Challenge In Minnesota, 29 smaller transit agencies are funded with Section 5311 funds administered by MnDOTâs Office of Transit and Active Transportation. Each agency must apply for this funding annually. Like many states, Minnesota does not have a formula-driven method of allocation, because FTA policy does not require one for Section 5311 funding. Many states do have bench- marks that establish a level of funding for a particular transit agency, with set-asides for new transit agencies. FTA requires that allocation be fair and not violate Title VI. With no clear method in place for 5311 funding in the state, the 29 Minnesota transit agen- cies have had to apply for 5311 operating and capital funding every year, without a clear sense of how much they will get or what it was based on. MPTA strongly believed that, if each of the
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 71Â Â Section 5311-funded transit agencies in Minnesota were to develop a 5-year short-range transit plan (SRTP) with the need for funding detailed, then MnDOT would have something more definitive on which to base funding allocation. Moreover, local policymakers would understand exactly which benefits would be realized if additional funding were provided for transit service in state and local budgets. However, few of the 29 transit agencies had in-house service planning expertise or the funds to hire a consulting firm. To complete such plans in a timely fashion (i.e., before the 2019 budget year), help was needed. Approach to Addressing the Challenge As MPTA got more involved, it pushed the concept that 5-year plans would give each transit agency and MnDOT a firmer idea of funding needs. Because most of the smaller transit agencies did not have service planning expertise in house, the solution put forth was to seek consultant helpâpaid for by MnDOT. Because this was needed quickly, MPTA suggested that multiple consultants (each responsible for transit agencies in one of five regions) would enhance the likelihood that all 29 plans would be completed in a timely and coordinated manner. MnDOTâs Office of Transit and Active Transportation agreed that 5-year transit system plans would help to improve service coordination in communities and increase ridership. MnDOT, via competitive procurement, eventually retained the services of four consulting firms and assigned each consultant to one or two regions based on their proposals. MnDOT provided a common format for the plans so it would be easier to find information in each. The consultants began their work in JulyÂ 2018, and all SRTPs were completed by Septem- berÂ 2019. MPTA is advocating for annual updates of key information as the 5-year plans are implemented. Costs and Benefits of Approach At first, there was concern from some local general managers about the amount of work nec- essary to complete the plans. MPTA encouraged these managers to actively participate in and add key community members to the process via local project advisory committees. Most of the general managers presented their SRTPs to their county boards and other local politicians, and some gained formal board adoption. If MnDOTâs allocation of Section 5311 funds to these agencies increasesâwhich would require a larger share of local fundingâthe like- lihood of garnering more revenue to secure larger local match requirements would be greater with support from the county board and local politicians. Many of the SRTPs included strategies and approaches that the local general managers admit- ted they would not have otherwise considered. Another benefit of SRTPs is that, previously, there were cases in which MnDOT turned down local vehicle replacement needs because the state and local transit agencies did not have the same data. On completion of the SRTPs, there was general agreement on vehicle replacement needs. The transit agencies and MnDOT now have ready data at their fingertips. Because the SRTPs were prepared using a common template, they are consistently formatted, and the information in them is easier to find. While this effort did not result in formula-based, data-driven Section 5311 funding, it did result in MnDOT adopting 2-year cycles for operations funding so transit agencies would not have to apply annually (although, they still must apply annually for vehicle capital funding). The
72 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies plans also resulted in MnDOT gaining a more accurate understanding of vehicle replacement and long-term funding needs. With the disruption caused by the 2020 pandemic, it is hard to say exactly what impact the SRTPs have had on service, though more transit facilities are being planned as a result of plan completions. The state currently is working on a pilot program to assist transit systems in the development of marketing plans. MPTA currently is advocating for annual updates of key SRTP information, especially as certain plan aspects are implemented. Lessons Learned Going through the exercise of taking a step back and developing a vision for the future of each transit system enabled transit leaders to think in new ways about how they serve their communities. Having access to consultants with experience in developing transit plans was critical to this projectâs success. Having local buy-in on plans for each transit system also was a huge benefit, as was having a roadmap to rely on as conditions and personnel change. The ability to quantify the cost of getting where each system wants to go and share it with policy- makers was a major benefit of plan development. Case Example 4G: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: new funding, service design Annual Ridership: 2.5Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 85,000 Agency: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Location: Flagstaff, AZ Annual Revenue Miles: 1.2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $7.8Â million Summary NAIPTA, also known as Mountain Line, has undertaken several innovative programs in recent years to increase ridership and bolster community involvement. In 2017, the agency completed a 5-year plan that explored balancing service coverage and frequency. Implementa- tion of study recommendations resulted in a ridership increase and decrease in cost per trip. Background Mountain Line is the public transit system serving Flagstaff, Arizona. Information about Mountain Line services (which include fixed-route bus, paratransit, taxi, and vanpool pro- grams) is on the agencyâs website, https://mountainline.az.gov. The Challenge Flagstaff âs geography and development patterns present challenges to achieving high- ridership and cost-effective transit. The service areaâs topography (i.e., hills and ridges), street network, highways, and railroad lines inhibit walkability and isolate some neighborhoods. Sepa- ration of residential and commercial areas makes average trip distances longer. Abundant free and subsidized parking encourages residents to drive instead of ride transit. The connection centers (downtown and at the Flagstaff Mall) are difficult for buses to access. With all these fac- tors, it is difficult to provide fixed-route transit service to certain neighborhoods.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 73Â Â Approach to Addressing the Challenge In 2017, Mountain Line completed a 5-year plan. In the course of the study, Mountain Line heard from the public (through a web-based survey and handout surveys at public events) and other stakeholders (through a workshop) that it should be providing shorter waits, longer hours of service, and coverage of new neighborhoods. However, without substantial new funding, Mountain Line concluded that it was not possible to achieve these goals. This key choice was presented to the public, stakeholders, and NAIPTA board in spring 2017. The board was asked to decide between: â¢ Maintaining the existing system. â¢ Decreasing the number of routes but increasing their frequency. â¢ Increasing areas served within city limits but decreasing route frequencies. â¢ Increasing frequencies and coverage, which would require additional funding. With the intent of increasing ridership, the board directed staff to maintain existing coverage but increase frequency on key routes as additional incremental funding became available. As a result, Route 7 now terminates at the Downtown Connection Center and its weekday frequency was increased from 30Â minutes to every 20Â minutes (without adding a bus). A new Route 8 was created to offer two-way service to the Downtown Connection Center in both directions, instead of westbound service only. While Route 7 and 8 changes resulted in a small ridership increase, the more significant rider- ship increase resulted from additional operating funds generated by the passage of tax measures. A sales tax of 17 cents per $100 for transit services first was approved by voters in 2000. In 2008, voters approved a renewal of the tax and an increased sales tax for four new transit services, which increased the total transit sales tax rate to about 29 cents per $100. With the additional operat- ing funds, Mountain Line increased service frequency and made other improvements. This was especially true with Route 10âa bus rapid transit service that serves NAU and is by far Mountain Lineâs largest ridership generator. Otherwise, existing service coverage was maintained. Costs and Benefits of Approach From 2017 to 2018, Mountain Line increased passenger trips from approximately 2.1Â million to 2.4Â million, with a resulting reduction in per-trip operating cost from $3.04 to $2.77. Moun- tain Line planning staff attributes the ridership increase to higher frequencies on key routes. Lessons Learned Mountain Lineâs transit planner indicated that the boardâs directive to focus available fund- ing on increasing frequencies of key routes while maintaining service coverage elsewhere was spot-on. Along with being a major contributor to increased system ridership and overall per- trip cost reduction, it maintained service equity. Case Example 4H: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: outreach Annual Ridership: 2.5Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 85,000 Agency: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Location: Flagstaff, AZ Annual Revenue Miles: 1.2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $7.8Â million
74 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Summary NAIPTA, also known as Mountain Line, has undertaken several innovative programs in recent years to increase ridership and bolster community involvement. One of these is an ana- lytical process and documentation format to communicate the impacts of proposed service changes. The resulting assessments help external parties understand the impacts and costs of service changes that may result from land-use changes, community requests, or other events. Background Mountain Line is the public transit system serving Flagstaff, Arizona. NAU is in the study area and generates substantial transit ridership. Information about Mountain Line services (which include fixed-route bus, paratransit, taxi, and vanpool programs) is on the agencyâs website, https://mountainline.az.gov. The Challenge Mountain Line perpetually looks at ways to support the diverse transportation needs of the communities it serves, as suggested by changes in land use, relocation of major activity centers, and service requests from the community. Mountain Lineâs leadership team wanted to assure external parties that the agency undertook a thorough review of any proposed service change, including assessing impacts on the current transit system, estimating additional operating costs, and developing sound recommendations. Approach to Addressing the Challenge Mountain Line developed an analytical process and documentation format to consider and communicate the agencyâs review of any proposed service change. For each change in land use, community suggestion, or other events, Mountain Lineâs planners and operations staff use the process to conduct and document a thorough assessment of the prospective service change and share it with impacted external parties. For example, from December 2019 through March 2020, Mountain Line staff conducted an assessment for three suggested changes that involved bringing transit service to Schultz Pass Road, the new Sacred Peaks Health Center, and the Veterans Home. The 5- to 8-page assessment uses the following structure: â¢ The request. For example, Mountain Line may be considering options to provide transit ser- vice in a new area. â¢ Method. For example, factors to be evaluated might include an analysis of potential route realignments, headway changes, and/or timing impacts. â¢ Recommendation. The recommendation is the assessmentâs key result. â¢ Detailed Analysis. The planning staffâs detailed analysis might include â A review of existing transit service and connectivity. â A map of the existing route(s) that potentially would be impacted. â A narrative review of the area where new service has been suggested, including how the roadway geometry may allow or prohibit certain turns and pullouts, as well as infrastruc- ture issues. â Ridership counts from the impacted route(s). â Any pertinent legal issues (e.g., bus stop permitting processes). â How the suggested new service or service change is consistent with Mountain Lineâs 5-year plan and related public input.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 75Â Â â Solutions, with ridership estimates (including any changes to existing route ridership) and costs (including any changes in frequency, route alignments, and infrastructure improvements). â Photos (where appropriate). There are two important aspects to this effort. First, Mountain Line developed a formalized process, which tells the community that Mountain Line is actively engaged in responding to such suggestions and treats each seriously and with thoroughness. Second, reasons a suggestion may or may not be implemented are shared with the community. In cases where it comes down to cost, sharing the results allows the community to advocate for a higher local contribution or understand prospective tradeoffs. For example, in the case of the suggested transit service expan- sion to Schultz Pass Road, the process resulted in the following recommendation: Mountain Line Planning and Operations Divisions recommend that bus service could be provided to Schultz Pass Road if funding is provided to cover the additional cost. Ultimately, the addition of a Schultz Pass area route would be a coverage improvement rather than a frequency improvement and, therefore, is not in line with Mountain Lineâs 5-year transit plan to be funded by the dedicated transit tax. The loca- tion also is not on the adopted Permanent Transit Network, which is meant to provide the community assurance about where Mountain Line will invest in the highest levels of transit service. Costs and Benefits of Approach The use of the analytical process and documentation has not required the hiring of any addi- tional planning staff. The only additional agency costs have been direct costs associated with time spent on the analyses. The analytical process and documentation have benefited the community by showing its members they are being heard. This is creating opportunities for partnerships and educating the community about the costs and constraints of transit service provision. Lessons Learned Transit planners commonly encounter changes in land use, relocation of major activity cen- ters, and service requests from the community. Transit agencies cannot fund everything on their own, so if there are community transit needs that are not well-served by your current system, Mountain Line staff advise that you enable people to become advocates so they can collaborate with you on addressing transportation gaps. Case Example 4I: Mountain Line Transit Authority Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: service design Annual Ridership: 1Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 69,000 Agency: Mountain Line Transit Authority Location: Morgantown, WV Annual Revenue Miles: 1.3Â million Annual Operating Expense: $4.8Â million Summary MLTA faced a need to relocate its downtown transit hub, which led to a service redesign that produced immediate benefits and has positioned MLTA to better serve two nearby areas of development.
76 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Background MLTA is the public transportation provider for Morgantown, West Virginia. Morgantown is the county seat of Monongalia County and home to WVU, which has an enrollment of approxi- mately 32,000. MLTA services include route deviation bus service, paratransit service, a vanpool program, and a volunteer driver program. More information about MLTA services is on the agencyâs website, https://www.busride.org. Morgantown also is home to the WVU-owned PRT service, a five-station, 8-mile system that connects WVUâs three campuses with Morgantownâs downtown area and serves about 200,000 trips per year. MLTA benefits from a property tax levy. The agency implemented the Levy Pass Program, wherein county residents who pay property taxes directly or indirectly ride free, under the prem- ise that they already contributed to fare revenue through the levy. Additional background information provided by MLTA is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge In November 2017, the city of Morgantown was awarded a grant from a local foundation to renovate the downtown area. Part of the renovation would turn the old train station, which sits along the Monongahela River and had been serving as the MLTA transit hub, into a cafÃ© and boathouse. MLTA met with the city manager to discuss optional sites, but none were feasible, especially since construction on a new site would have to begin soon to meet the relocation deadline. Ultimately, MLTA decided to build its new hub on the property where its administrative and operations/maintenance facility was located, in the cityâs Westover section. That facility already functioned as the hub for MLTAâs Grey Line service. While on the other side of the river, this facility was less than a mile and a bridge crossing from the old hub. Part of the relocation chal- lenge was redesigning the routes that serve the hub. Approach to Addressing the Challenge The service redesign was performed in house using Remix transit planning software. Prin- ciples of the redesign were: â¢ Ensuring service is retained in current service areas. â¢ Increasing frequencies where possible, at a minimum maintaining current frequencies. â¢ Not increasing operational costs. Planning work started in February 2018, when route timings were conducted for use in pre- paring the new draft schedules. On completion in April 2018, this resulted in an increased route total, from 17 to 24. All but a few of these routes go through the new hub at the top or bottom of the hour, and all are on hourly headways. For the most part, common trips requiring a transfer were accommodated by pulsing at the hub at the same time. In April and MayÂ 2018, MLTA conducted a significant community outreach campaign that included five public meetings to explain the changes and gain community input. Based on that input, schedules were revised and finalized in June 2018, with new schedules distributed and posted the following month. The redesigned service and new hub started in AugustÂ 2018. Fare- free service was offered during the first 2Â months (this was before the Levy Pass Program was implemented).
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 77Â Â Costs and Benefits of Approach The transit hub relocation and service redesign budget totaled $936,500. There were several benefits to siting the new transit hub at MLTA property across the river. First, the site has improved pedestrian access, less traffic, and numerous transit shelters around the lot, along with better passenger amenities. There also is plenty of parking for Grey Line riders. Second, the new location enables better bus flow because of its proximity and access to a highway where significant new developments are underway one and two exits away. The first exit is home to a FedEx shipping facility, which has a significant employee workforce, and the second is the site of University Town Center, where commercial, retail, and residential develop- ment is ongoing. MLTA managers also have reported there are benefits to having all employees at the same locationâfor example, it is easier to see the ebb and flow of employees. Some benefits accrue to riders in terms of greater control over service quality. For example, instances of employee discipline have increased significantly since the hub relocation. An industry rule of thumb is that it often takes up to 18 months for ridership to rebound from a radical service redesign. In Morgantown, ridership dropped at first but rebounded to its original levels by early 2020. Lessons Learned MLTA staff offered the following lessons learned concerning the hub relocation project and associated service redesign: â¢ When a transit agency is doing a major redesign in house (i.e., without the assistance of consultants), using transit planning software such as Remix is essential to achieving agency goals for balancing coverage and frequency. â¢ Including public input in the process and conducting a comprehensive public information campaign is critical to a successful transition and rider acceptance. â¢ Adding a fare-free period at the outset of a new service cannot only entice new riders to try transit but help riders tolerate any transition foibles. Case Example 4J: Okanogan County Transit Authority/TranGO Theme: Service Planning/Redesign Keywords: outreach, service design Annual Ridership: 58,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 16,600 Agency: TranGO Location: Okanogan County, WA Annual Revenue Miles: 443,000 Annual Operating Expense: $1.9Â million Summary A new transit authority in a very rural area of north-central Washington faced a decision: build on existing senior transportation routes with a recommended, conventional hub-and- spoke service model or create a transit system that matched the travel needs of the local popu- lation. Without the benefit of a service planner, the authorityâs inaugural manager opted to take the latter path by conducting a community survey to understand the trip-making needs of
78 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies county residents. Survey responses suggested a unique service design, which has proved to be very successful in meeting needs. Background Okanogan County is a rural county in north-central Washington, on the Canadian border. The Okanogan County Transit Authority (OCTA) was formed in NovemberÂ 2013 as a result of a sales tax initiative. Called TranGO (which means Transit for Greater Okanogan), the agency operates route deviation service and a vanpool program. More information about TranGO services is on the agencyâs website, https://okanogantransit.com/. Additional background infor- mation provided by TranGO is in Appendix D. The Challenge OCTAâs first (and current) manager faced the challenge of designing the OCTA system from scratch, without the help of a transit service planner. The conventional wisdom and prevailing preferred design of the time were to implement a hub-and-spoke system, with Omak serving as the hub. OCTAâs manager took a different approach to implement a system best tailored to the community. Approach to Addressing the Challenge To better understand the travel patterns of OCTAâs prospective riders, a community survey was launched in 2014. It was advertised on radio and in newspapers and made available on local websites and social media. Survey hardcopies were provided at common destinations such as Walmart, libraries, post offices, community bulletin boards, the county hospital in Omak, health clinics, Wenatchee Valley Community College, and human service agencies and training sites. Survey responses suggested that a hub-and-spoke design would fail because it would not accommodate trip patterns. Instead, a U-shaped network was designed, with linking route segments coordinated at different transfer points. Portions of segments would offer route deviation service, and in areas where that did not make sense, a demand-responsive service would help fill the gaps. To accommodate employment trips, routes pulsed on the transfer points every half-hour during peak periods. Off-peak, the routes were scheduled to pulse on the hour. To operate the service and meet the needs of prospective riders, OCTA needed a 10-vehicle fleet. Grants totaling $450,000 were secured to procure three low-floor, paratransit-style buses. The buses arrived in spring 2015, and shuttle service between Omak and Okanogan began JulyÂ 1, 2015. Seven raised-floor paratransit vehicles with 22-passenger capacity were purchased using local funds and arrived in spring 2016. Service expanded JulyÂ 1, 2016, to include six deviated fixed routes and enhanced local demand-responsive service. Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition (OCTN) already had a sufficient number of vehicles to operate the expanded demand-responsive portion of the service. OCTN and OCTA maintained separate administrative/operations offices until December 2016, when they were able to co-locate in a remodeled facility (maintenance is contracted out by both agencies, using local and regional vendors based on need). Co-locating provided numer- ous benefits, as the two services work hand in hand, and resulted in efficiencies that included shared dispatching, training, reception, meeting facilities, security, and community outreach coordination.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 79Â Â To operate and support the route deviation service, OCTA hired 10 drivers, an operations manager, administrative support, and a clerk. Several of the drivers are remotely located, which helps minimize vehicle miles. Costs and Benefits of Approach After modest ridership of 10,700 trips in 2015, TranGO ridership increased to 30,000 pas- senger trips in 2016, 41,900 in 2017, 48,500 in 2018, and 58,000 in 2019. At the same time, there was a per-trip cost reduction for the directly operated service and contracted services. TableÂ 14 summarizes these outcomes. Lessons Learned OCTAâs manager offered the following lessons learned from the service design effort: â¢ Do not force a system design just because it worked well elsewhere. Find out where and when people need to travel and tailor your design around those needs. Without the survey, it would have been a challenge to convince the OCTA board to consider any model other than the originally proposed hub-and-spoke design. The result would have been extensive deadhead miles and higher costs. â¢ When incorporating existing drivers, dispatchers, and other staff into a new service, it may make more sense to contract with their current employers rather than absorb them as employees of the transit authority. This preserves a sense of value and morale. â¢ In rural areas, âout-stationingâ drivers and vehicles can be successful, but each driver is required to make it into the office at least once a week for face time. Service Type 2017 2018 2019 Fixed-Route â Directly Operated Passenger Trips 41,871 48,514 58,017 Operating Cost $1,075,463 $1,071,260 $1,263,366 Cost Per Passenger Trip $25.69 $22.08 $21.78 Fixed-Route â Purchased Passenger Trips 1,368 2,163 2,360 Operating Cost $46,828 $57,462 $59,490 Cost Per Passenger Trip $34.23 $26.57 $25.21 Demand-Response â Purchased Passenger Trips 7,954 9,560 9,111 Operating Cost $206,118 $249,420 $223,888 Cost Per Passenger Trip $25.91 $26.09 $24.57 Total Passenger Trips 51,193 60,237 69,488 Operating Cost $1,328,409 $1,378,142 $1,546,744 Cost Per Passenger Trip $25.95 $22.88 $22.26 Source: OCTA/TranGO Table 14. TranGO service statistics.
80 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Theme #5: Microtransit and FMLM Access Case Example 5A: Manatee County Area Transit Theme: Microtransit and First-Mile/ Last-Mile Access Keywords: FMLM, technology Annual Ridership: 1.5Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 141,000 Agency: Manatee County Area Transit Location: Bradenton, FL Annual Revenue Miles: 2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $13.2Â million Summary MCAT implemented a door-to-door service in low-density areas to provide FMLM connec- tions to transit. Background MCAT, a county department, is the public transportation provider for Manatee County, which is located on Floridaâs Gulf Coast. The largest city in the service area is Bradenton. Infor- mation about MCAT services (which include fixed-route bus service and paratransit service) is on the agencyâs website, https://www.mymanatee.org/departments/mcat. MCATâs technology procurement process and technology business plan are described in Case Example 3A. The Challenge Three years ago, the fixed-route transit service operating on Longboat Key, a barrier island in the service area, was carrying fewer than five passengers per hour. The island is mostly devel- oped with residential uses, so the potential to generate additional ridership there was low. Dis- continuing the route would free operating funds that could be used more effectively elsewhere. However, MCAT did not want to eliminate transit service on the island entirely. Approach to Addressing the Challenge MCAT decided to test a microtransit service on the island. The service connects island resi- dents to a transfer center on Anna Maria Island to the north and a Sarasota County Area Tran- sit (SCAT) fixed route to the south. MCATâs investments in CAD/AVL and other technology (described in Case Example 3A) were critical in making the microtransit service viable. MCAT decided to operate the microtransit service in house because it would be easier and faster to make needed changes. MCAT introduced IVR technology at the same time as the microtransit service, which was important because IVR allowed riders to request trips and find out when buses arrived. Costs and Benefits of Approach In its 3Â years of operation, the microtransit service has successfully provided connections to the north and south. The service is used by island residents and service-sector employees who work on the island. The connection with the SCAT fixed route can be coordinated on MCATâs side. Before the implementation of the microtransit service, the connection with the SCAT fixed route did not exist.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 81Â Â The microtransit service is working for MCAT and riders because the agency has been able to optimize service hours on the mainland. Lessons Learned The microtransit service was Phase 2 of a service optimization plan. MCATâs general manager advises that agencies define guiding principles to assist in service optimizations. Guiding prin- ciples can address parameters such as desired headways and outcomes such as schedule adher- ence. You can always refer to guiding principles when making decisions about the path forward and answering questions that arise. Case Example 5B: Franklin Regional Transit Authority Theme: Microtransit and First-Mile/ Last-Mile Access Keywords: FMLM, technology Annual Ridership: 149,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 38,000 Agency: Franklin Regional Transit Authority Location: Greenfield, MA Annual Revenue Miles: 589,000 Annual Operating Expense: $3Â million Summary Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) implemented a microtransit pilot to serve the FMLM needs of riders FRTA was unable to reach through its fixed-route service. Background FRTA is based in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in the western part of the state. FRTA serves all of Franklin County and parts of the North Quabbin region. FRTA services include fixed-route bus and paratransit. More information about FRTA services is on the agencyâs website, http:// frta.org. Additional background information provided by FRTA is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge There are demand pockets in the FRTA service area where transit routesâand, as such, ADA paratransit servicesâare not available. Taxi service is very limited in the area, and there are no TNCs. The only service offered in some areas was a demand-responsive option. Approach to Addressing the Challenge The idea of providing an on-demand microtransit service to fill gaps in the fixed-route bus network was borne of the idea of using available capacity in the demand-responsive service. Further, the demand-responsive service uses smaller wheelchair-accessible vehicles, which in Massachusetts do not require drivers to have a CDL. In SeptemberÂ 2019, with the help of a 2-year, $240,550 grant from Massachusetts DOT (MassDOT), FRTA launched a pilot program called FRTA Accessâan on-demand, general public microtransit service allowing anyone to schedule a next-day or same-day ride through a mobile app. The service is provided in two zones. Zone 1 includes Greenfield, Montague,
82 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Deerfield, Whately, Gill, and Leyden. Zone 2 covers Orange, New Salem, Warwick, and Wendell. Trips may be made only within their zone. The idea behind it was to take advantage of extra capacity on the DR service. FRTA Access operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6Â p.m. The fare is $5 for a one- way trip, and additional riders cost $2.50. Because capacity is limited, rides must be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. The app and system software are from Ecolane, the company that provided FRTAâs paratransit scheduling software. Because the vehicles used for FRTA Access are wheelchair-accessible, service equivalency was not an issue. The major challenges in planning the microtransit service were developing an app and choosing a zone or zones that had wireless and internet coverage. For the first challenge, FRTA turned to its paratransit scheduling software vendor, while the need for wireless and internet service affected the location of the pilot areas. For example, FRTA Access could not be introduced in some of the more rural parts of the service area, where wireless service was spotty and demand-responsive services were being operated by Councils of Aging, because those services did not have access to fareboxes or Ecolane software. Much of the implementation focused on the development of the Ecolane app. While there were glitches along the way, FRTAâs administrator reported that Ecolane was very responsive in fixing them. The development phase started in March 2019, with a go-live date in SeptemberÂ 2019. A fair amount of time also was spent inputting points of interest into the app and software so cus- tomers could identify a specific pickup or drop-off location by name, rather than address, with the latter often unknown or requiring an extra step outside the app to identify. Costs and Benefits of Approach FRTAâs initial investment in planning and implementing FRTA Access was $125,000, with an additional $86,000 for the development, testing, and deployment of the mobile app. In terms of operational cost, the use of available capacity on the demand-responsive service resulted in a negligible add-on cost. Since the programâs inception, more than 230 individuals have downloaded the FRTA Access app, with approximately 25% completing at least one trip. The total demand-responsive rider- ship baseline before FRTA Access program implementation was 750 trips per month, as shown in FigureÂ 17. The average demand-responsive ridership by the end of MarchÂ 2020 was 860 trips Source: Created from FRTA data 0 200 400 600 800 1,000 Before After Demand-Responsive Access Goal Figure 17. Ridership per month before and after FRTA Access implementation.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 83Â Â per month, of which 77 were Access trips. FRTAâs goal was 900 demand-responsive trips per month. The addition of these trips without increased service hours also positively impacted productivity. By the end of March 2020, in response to the ongoing pandemic, FRTA had reduced much of its fixed-route services and allowed only essential travel in the service area (e.g., for work, medical appointments, grocery shopping, and pharmacies). With the reduction of paratransit trips overall, including the FRTA Access program, FRTA decided to limit Access trips to essen- tial ones impacted by the fixed-route service reductions. For April, Access provided 247 essential trips for riders displaced by fixed-route service reductions. Even with the major disruption to daily life caused by the pandemic, FRTA was able to quickly shift its transit operating model to focus on delivering essential trips by leveraging the FRTA Access microtransit model. While delivering fewer trips overall during the pandemic, FRTA still was able to cover all essential transportation requests in the region with help from the new microtransit service. Lessons Learned FRTAâs administrator advises patience and testing of products such as new apps using actual system riders a couple of months before launch. You can receive good feedback, which informs continued app development and tailoring to ensure simple usability for passengers. âIf they canât figure it out, they wonât use it,â she says. She also advises that it is important to be available in person or via phone to help passengers with any questions or issues the transit agency may have taken for granted. For example, FRTAâs administrator mentioned that staff assumed every rider knew addresses of places they wanted to go, but the testing phase proved this was not true. The system then was configured to add points of interest, with a dropdown menu of locations to choose from. She also advises that transit agencies beware of software vendors with inexpensive licenses during the first year. It is important to look ahead to annual costs after the first year. Some software vendors FRTA considered would have significantly increased license fees after the first year. In some cases, fees in subsequent years were higher than projected fare revenue for the same timeframe. Case Example 5C: Rogue Valley Transportation District Theme: Microtransit and First-Mile/ Last-Mile Access Keywords: FMLM, outreach, procurement Annual Ridership: 1.2Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 93,000 Agency: Rogue Valley Transportation District Location: Medford, OR Annual Revenue Miles: 1.4Â million Annual Operating Expense: $11.2Â million Summary To address topography-limited mobility issues in Ashland, Oregon, the Rogue Valley Trans- portation District (RVTD) planned and implemented an on-demand microtransit service dubbed the Ashland Connector.
84 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Background RVTD operates in the Rogue Valley region of Oregon, which includes the cities of Medford and Ashland, along with smaller cities. RVTD services are comprised of the fixed-route bus, paratransit, and the on-demand microtransit that is the subject of this case example. More information about RVTD services is on the agencyâs website, https://www.rvtd.org, as well as https://www.ashlandconnector.org. Additional background information provided by RVTD is in Appendix D. The Challenge For years, RVTD faced a problem serving riders living in the very hilly city of Ashland. Although the major corridor in Ashland is served by the very popular Route 10, riders who reside in the narrow roads beyond the main corridor were challenged just to reach a bus stop. Some had to walk as much as a mile up and down Ashlandâs steep hills, which is a challenge on most days and virtually impossible when it snows. Additionally, Ashlandâs topography was not conducive to providing fixed-route service to the communities on top of the hills and along the hillside where several current and prospective ridersâmany of them low-income seniorsâ live. Low-income residents make up 37% of the cityâs population, while Ashlandâs growing older adult populationâwhich increased 27% from 2010 to 2016âmakes up 21% of the cityâs residents. In addition, stakeholders participating in the Ashland Transit Expansion Study noted that residents in the older-adult community of Mountain Meadows had asked for shared-ride services for many years because their homes are outside the RVTD paratransit boundary and inacces- sible by larger buses. Likewise, people had asked for a shared-ride transit service to Ashland Senior Center, which is more than a quarter-mile from the nearest Route 10 bus stop. Approach to Addressing the Challenge For years, RVTD staff had talked internally about introducing an advance-reservation, demand-responsive feeder/distributor service, but it never got past the discussion phase. How- ever, when microtransit services began materializing across the United States and new on- demand technology became available, RVTD realized that microtransit was a perfect solution for Ashland. RVTD successfully submitted a competitive demonstration grant application to ODOT for planning and implementation of the microtransit service, dubbed the Ashland Connector. The grant also was used to acquire a software license and equipment for in-vehicle driver communi- cation and data collection, as well as two vehicles. Both vehicles are Ford Transits. One seats 13, and the other seats seven and has a wheelchair position. There have been 12 requests for wheelchair- accessible service in the first 6Â months since startup. Planning started in MarchÂ 2019. A significant part of the 9-month planning and imple- mentation phase was preparing an RFP and selecting a vendor for the software and app that would support the Ashland Connector and for in-vehicle tablets and associated software for driver communication and data collection. The RFP was developed in house, and five vendors submitted proposals. RVTD selected its vendor based on factors that included app simplicity, the flexibility of some software functions, and a willingness to work with RVTD as an ongoing partner. The selection process and service setup took 6 to 7Â months. Marketing and community outreach were important parts of the implementation plan. Many Ashland residents are senior retirees who are unable to or would prefer not to drive a car. Thus,
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 85Â Â the focal points of pre-implementation marketing were the senior center, senior residences, and senior community at large. (Note that the senior centerâs superintendent sits on an RVTD advi- sory board and was a vocal supporter of the ODOT grant.) Outreach efforts included in-person events at the senior center (two of which attracted more than 80 individuals), fliers, directed online marketing, direct mailings, and, as the DecemberÂ 16, 2019, launch date approached, special discount codes. The Ashland Connector is operated by Paratransit Services Inc., under contract with RVTD. Service is available within the city limits of Ashland from 9 a.m. to 6Â p.m. Monday through Saturday. One of the serviceâs vehicles is equipped with a rear-boarding wheelchair lift, and passengers are expected to be able to load themselves into the vehicle with limited driver assistance. Same-day on-demand service can be requested by booking a ride through RVTDâs Rogue Valley Connector app or contacting RVTDâs paratransit call center. Since the start of service, 72% of trips have been requested by app and 28% by phone. Destinations are limited to 24 des- ignated stops. Depending on a riderâs location, the software may direct the driver to pick up at the riderâs current location. For certain geofenced areasâespecially downtown, where it can be difficult to find parkingâthe software may direct or âpushâ the rider to a nearby location, such as a yellow curb, for pickup. The full fare is $2; qualifying riders and those ages 10 to 17 pay $1. Younger children ride free. All fixed-route fare types are accepted on the service (i.e., passes, cash, and tokens). Transfers to RVTD fixed-route service are free. Costs and Benefits of Approach The Ashland Connector is still in its first year of operation and funded by a $400,000 dis- cretionary ODOT grant. RVTD is hopeful that once the pilot period ends, it will be able to continue the service through partnerships with local jurisdictions. The total project cost, as included in the grant application, was $499,500. This is broken down in TableÂ 15. The cost of the software license was $22,500 for the 18-month demonstration period. The plan for microtransit operations also involved using the RVTD paratransit call center for trip requests at no additional cost and augmenting the agreement with its paratransit operations contractor to operate the new service. Source: RVTD Project Cost Category Cost Operating $260,000 Vehicle Purchase $140,000 Mobility Management $ 54,500 Project Administration $ 35,000 Planning $ 10,000 Total $499,500 Table 15. Ashland Connector project costs.
86 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Service started in December 2019. Ridership on the two-vehicle system reached 640 trips per month before the 2020 pandemic, with a productivity of three trips per hour. Since the pan- demic, ridership has tapered off. The average trip distance has been 1.95Â miles. Although an onboard survey is planned for year 2 of the service to coincide with an onboard survey of RVTDâs fixed-route system, early feedback on the microtransit service has been very encouraging. RVTD staff report that the Ashland Connector has enabled people working in Ashland to get to their work locations and the main commercial corridor where they shop and socialize. Riders have commented that the user-friendly ride-hailing technology has improved their public transit experience. On the first day of service, several riders were interviewed. One was a visually impaired gentle- man from Skylark Assisted Living whose sister lives 6Â miles away in a senior residence within the city limits. Because taxi fare was $12 plus tip each way, he previously had visited her only sparingly. In the interview, he stated he was thrilled with the Ashland Connector because he now can visit her much more often given that it costs him only $1 each way. RVTD staff also noted that the demonstration project occurred in concert with a statewide transit initiative to improve the network and passenger experience by pursuing configuration and publication of GTFS-flex data. Lessons Learned As previously mentioned, RVTD staff stressed the importance of pre-implementation marketing. RVTDâs planning and implementation manager for the Ashland Connector said, âI canât overstate this enough: If you do not have cohesive and aggressive advertising, it is unlikely that your service will succeed.â She also stated that service messaging has to be extremely clear. Several members of the senior community were confused why, for certain trip requests, they would be picked up at their GIS- identified or stated location (such as an address or a store name), while for others, the system would âpushâ them to be picked up at a nearby location. When this confusion manifested, a round of focused outreach was conducted to provide reasons why and examples. The lesson RVTD staff learned was to do a better job clearly articulating such service characteristics before startup and going forward. Another lesson: It is, by far, less time-consuming and labor-intensive to augment the con- tract with the current paratransit contractor to include the service instead of developing an RFP for a service provider and conducting a full procurement. It should be noted there are FTA procurement guidelines relevant in this situationânamely, the transit agency may have to get at least one other quote, depending on the value of the add-on contract. State and local laws also might apply. Case Example 5D: St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners Transit Division Theme: Microtransit and First-Mile/ Last-Mile Access Keywords: FMLM, service design Annual Ridership: 537,000 Annual Revenue Hours: 69,000 Agency: St. Lucie County Transit Division Location: St. Lucie County, FL Annual Revenue Miles: 1.1Â million Annual Operating Expense: $5.8Â million
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 87Â Â Summary In 2016, St. Lucie County launched Direct Connect, a service designed to fulfill the transit needs of low-income, mobility-impaired county residents after the fixed-route and ADA para- transit services stopped operating at 6Â p.m. A second on-demand program was introduced in December 2019 as a 6-month pilot. This program, called On-Demand Treasure Coast Con- nector, is a three-vehicle, on-demand microtransit service available to the general public in southwest Port St. Lucie. Background St. Lucie County is on Floridaâs Atlantic shore between Indian River County to the north and Martin County to the south. The county seat is Fort Pierce. In St. Lucie County, 16% of house- holds are below the federal poverty level, and approximately half are below the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold. ALICE households have incomes that are above the federal poverty level but below the basic cost of living. That figure rises to more than 70% in Fort Pierce. St. Lucie County contracts transit system operations to service providers that deliver Treasure Coast Connector trips (including fixed-route transit and paratransit trips) in the county. More information on St. Lucie County transit services is at SLCRide.org. Additional background information from St. Lucie County is in AppendixÂ D. The Challenge In recent years, St. Lucie County has embraced an innovative approach to providing public transit, including initiating free fares for its fixed-route and demand-responsive paratransit ser- vices. The first 3 years of the fare-free program resulted in a 283% ridership increase, but there were areas within the county and times when there was a demand for public transit, though not enough to justify a fixed-route service. These areas and times were identified in the countyâs 2014 TDP, which recommended that the county instead implement microtransit services. The county agreed and implemented two such services. As mentioned above, there is a sizable number of low-income or otherwise transportation- disadvantaged St. Lucie County residents who must make essential trips early mornings, late evening, and weekends, when fixed-route and paratransit services do not operate. These resi- dents include persons needing to reach job training, evening or late-night employment, and evening college classes. A sizable portion of the countyâs low-income workers is employed in the retail industry, where shifts often start and end beyond the transit systemâs 6Â a.m. to 8Â p.m. weekday service span. Also, while Saturday bus service now is available, there was no Saturday service at the time Direct Connect service was in planning. St. Lucie Countyâs planning staff identified a significant challenge for this population securing transportation, especially those without access to a personal vehicle and the mobility-impaired. The purpose of Direct Connect was to address these unmet needs. To help fund a solution, St. Lucie County received approval from Florida DOT (FDOT) to reallocate the scope of an existing service development grant, with a remaining balance of $30,000, to seed the project. County transit staff applied for several competitive grant oppor- tunities from the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (FCTD). The first of three FCTD awards was a $109,500 mobility enhancement grant, received in 2017, for plan development and initial service operation. Two additional FCTD grants of $150,000 each were awarded in 2018 and 2019. Revenues from public-private partnerships were secured from the Treasure Coast Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind for $20,000, and one $90,000 FTA Section 5310 grant was provided through FDOT in 2017 for the launch of
88 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies Direct Connect. Lastly, the required participant co-pay provides a revenue source to assist with program administrative costs. Approach to Addressing the Challenge Direct Connect Direct Connect is St. Lucie Countyâs âextended hoursâ service for its low-income, transportation-disadvantaged residents. Direct Connect was designed to help meet the demand for public transportation when the countyâs traditional fixed-route and paratransit services are not in operation. Direct Connect provides pickups or drop-offs in St. Lucie, Indian River, and Martin counties on qualified trips for approved program participants. This provides access to and from healthcare and education services, job training, employment opportunities, and life- sustaining activities. FigureÂ 18 is an example of a social media advertisement for Direct Connect. The initial pilot phase of Direct Connect operated from JuneÂ 2017 to MarchÂ 2018. The county contracted with local taxi companies, local car services, and Lyftâall of which would respond to on-demand trip requests placed via apps or phone. MV Transportation later was added to provide service using wheelchair-accessible vehicles. During the pilot phase, St. Lucie County transit staff handled administrative functions, such as providing information about the new service, distributing program applications and infor- mation, qualifying riders, providing travel training, preparing and mailing co-pay invoices, coordinating with common rider destinations (e.g., dialysis centers and employers) and non- emergency services, monitoring service provider trip logs, reviewing and processing service provider invoices, and soliciting community partnerships. Source: St. Lucie County For more Figure 18. Direct Connect social media advertisement.
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 89Â Â County staff made several changes based on challenges and opportunities identified in the initial pilot. They include: â¢ Preparing a Rider Responsibilities Guide to help users understand and comply with rules. â¢ Using individual case management strategies to qualify participants. This way, the county was able to reach and qualify more clients, and each was given a maximum funding allowance based on need. â¢ Requiring a $20 per month co-pay from all program participants. In addition, Direct Connectâs service hours were revised to reflect changes in the updated standard bus schedule. The new hours were 8Â p.m. to 6Â a.m. weekdays and 8Â p.m. Saturday through 6Â a.m. Monday. Also, baseline data developed from the initial pilot program provided an opportunity to eval- uate and adjust the service while seeking additional funding. Stemming from the challenges and opportunities revealed by the initial pilot, the adjustments, as listed below, mostly focused on the service providers: â¢ St. Lucie County required the service providers to submit all data in a format acceptable to the respective granting agency. â¢ Uber replaced Lyft to augment the service. With the program so modified, the new program, dubbed Direct Connect 2.0, was launched in October 2018. On-Demand Treasure Coast Connector (Microtransit) On DecemberÂ 9, 2019, St. Lucie County launched a fare-free, on-demand pilot shared-ride service using a $600,000 grant from FDOT. The service, called the On-Demand Treasure Coast Connector, is provided in southwest Port St. Lucie and includes areas where fixed-route service has been unavailable. The service operates from 6Â a.m. to 8Â p.m. Monday through Friday and 7Â a.m. to 5Â p.m. Saturday. The county contracted with TransLoc to provide the app that riders use to request trips. All vans are wheelchair-accessible. Costs and Benefits of Approach Direct Connect The total program cost for planning and operation of the two Direct Connect phases was approximately $300,000. There were no associated capital costs, and county staff absorbed the costs of program administration in the pilot phase. In the second phase, the county budgeted roughly $25,000 to administer the program for 18Â months. The remaining money is paid directly to the service providers. In the initial Direct Connect pilot phase, qualified participants took 5,131 trips. Of those, 55% were to and from work, 42% were to and from college or job training, and 3% were for medical appointments (mostly dialysis treatments). All trips are counted one-way, and the average trip cost, as invoiced to the county, was $19.94. The program has succeeded beyond the countyâs expectations, enabling hundreds of county residents without cars to get jobs, attend college classes, or seek dialysis or other medical treat- ments. Survey invitations were emailed to all participants and hard copies distributed, generat- ing a 30% response rate. Among respondents, 90% were satisfied with the service, including several who called it a âlifesaverâ and âperfect.â The county is searching for revenue sources to continue the service past JuneÂ 30, 2020.
90 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies On-Demand Treasure Coast Connector (Microtransit) In the pilot period, 358 registered users of the On-Demand Treasure Coast Connector took 3,415Â rides. This occurred despite the 2020 pandemic that shut down many aspects of Florida life 3Â months after the service debuted. With mobility ramping up after the initial virus shutdown, ridership continues to increase monthly, and passengers rave about the new service. The average wait time for an on-demand pickup is 25 minutes, compared to hourly service for the countyâs fixed bus routes. In the geographically designated pilot area, the #1 rider destination is a Walmart and Samâs Club shopping center, followed by a bus stop at a CVS pharmacy and a Publix supermarket shopping center. The most popular ride time is 9Â a.m., followed by 10Â a.m. and 1Â p.m. St. Lucie Countyâs objective is to create a technology-driven, demand-responsive public transportation system that is completely integrated with fixed-route transit service. If successful in the initial area after 3Â years, the program will be expanded throughout the entire region in low-density areas currently unserved by public transportation. The software being used tolerates the complexity of a growing, diverse service area and has an intuitive learning ability to optimize vehicle routing and trip planning. This is anticipated to promote vehicle sharing and decrease cost per trip while ensuring favorable rider experiences. The decision to choose transit often starts with the first (or last) mile. By more conveniently connecting suburban customers to the countyâs transit system, the county can increase the number of riders it brings into its fixed-route bus network, boosting economies of scale. Lessons Learned County planning staff advise: â¢ The maximum monthly per-passenger subsidy should be based on the overall grant budget, but also on community needs as identified in the TDP, Transportation Disadvantaged Service Plan and United Way ALICE Report, and/or other community assessment document. â¢ To ensure enforcement and set rider expectations, it is important to formalize and commu- nicate program guidelines. â¢ The pilot phase should be used as a learning experience. Learn as a result of the challenges and opportunities, and modify the service as needed. For Direct Connect, this resulted in reducing the maximum subsidy amount. â¢ Extending the service area from the beginning to reflect a regional approach was the right thing to do because several riders use Direct Connect to attend job training, employment, non-emergency medical appointments (such as dialysis), and college classes in the neighbor- ing counties to the north and south. â¢ Be sure to include detailed data requirements in vendor contracts to correspond with the grant agencyâs requirements. This includes the full origin-to-designation manifest. Case Example 5E: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Theme: Service Innovation, Tailored Services and Marketing Keywords: FMLM, service design Annual Ridership: 2.5Â million Annual Revenue Hours: 85,000 Agency: Mountain Line/NAIPTA Location: Flagstaff, AZ Annual Revenue Miles: 1.2Â million Annual Operating Expense: $7.8Â million
Innovative Approaches toÂ Addressing Transit PlanningÂ Challenges 91Â Â Summary NAIPTA, also known as Mountain Line, has undertaken several innovative programs in recent years to increase ridership and bolster community involvement. In 2019, the agency com- pleted the On-Demand Feasibility Study (On-Demand Study) to analyze costs, considerations, and benefits of implementing an on-demand program within the Mountain Line service area. Background Mountain Line is the public transit system serving Flagstaff, Arizona. Information about Mountain Line services (which include fixed-route bus, paratransit, taxi, and vanpool pro- grams) is on the agencyâs website, https://mountainline.az.gov. The Challenge As described in Case Example 4G, Flagstaff has several isolated neighborhoods that are dif- ficult to serve with fixed-route transit because of the topography, nonlinear street network, and highway and railroad barriers. In addition, there are neighborhoods in lower-demand areas and/or at lower-demand times (such as weekday evenings and weekends) that need transit ser- vice but cannot support a fixed route. Approach to Addressing the Challenge The On-Demand Study identified several areas within Flagstaff that are not conducive to fixed-route service due to street configuration, lack of connectivity within the area, and/or low densities. The study assessed three goals for on-demand services to provide: a cost-effective solu- tion in areas along low-performing routes; a level of service where there currently is no fixed- route transit, both spatially and temporally; and an FMLM connection to fixed-route transit. The analysis identified high-need areas that were outside a quarter-mile walkshed from exist- ing bus stops. For example, both University Heights and Ponderosa Trail were identified as residential suburban neighborhoods with low walkability to stops, because many of the roads in those neighborhoods are circuitous and do not connect with the main road. Some of the roads also are quite narrow and cannot be served by a 40-foot bus. Woody Mountain, Pine Canyon, Country Club Estates, and Industrial Drive similarly were identified as candidates for on-demand service. Additionally, four neighborhoods outside of Flagstaff but within Mountain Lineâs service area also were identified. Late-night on-demand service was considered in the study. Cost estimates were provided for each program type. Ultimately, the study recommended implementing Mountain Line-operated dedicated microtransit vehicles in three areas and using paratransit vehicles as backups in case of excess demand. The three microtransit services are for: â¢ Thorpe Loop, to replace a segment of Route 5. This service would be operated with one vehicle and three drivers during Route 5âs existing service hours, in a 0.7-square-mile zone. â¢ University Heights, to connect to Route 10, Route 14, and Route 4 bus stops. This service would be operated with two vehicles and four drivers during Route 10âs existing service hours, in a 0.74-square-mile zone. â¢ The Country Club/Industrial Area to connect to Route 3 bus stops. This service would be operated with three vehicles and four drivers during Route 10âs existing service hours, in a 3.11-square-mile zone. In addition, Mountain Line plans to implement two TNC-based subsidy programs. The first would be a late-night service available throughout the service area from 11Â p.m. Friday to
92 Innovative Practices for Transit Planning at Small to Mid-Sized Agencies 2:30Â a.m. Saturday and from 11Â p.m. Saturday to 2:30Â a.m. Sunday. This is outside fixed-route service hours. The second TNC-based program would connect Doney Park, a rural/suburban neighborhood outside city limits, to the Mall Connection Center. The service area would cover 9.7Â square miles and be available seven days a week during fixed-route service hours. Costs and Benefits of Approach Projected operating costs of the five new services are summarized in TableÂ 16. Lessons Learned Mountain Line researched 14 different on-demand programs. Six were TNC partnerships, and eight were microtransit programs operated internally or by a contractor. Four main lessons were learned from NAIPTAâs peer program research: 1. Marketing. It is important to create a robust plan, educate customers, and use traditional outreach methods and social media for program promotion. 2. Demand. Many of the programs had more demand than predicted, which caused difficulties with wait times and budget. It is important to be flexible and track the program daily, espe- cially at the beginning of implementation. 3. Pilot or demonstration project. It is important to test and make adjustments often. 4. Planning. Be clear in your goals. This will help you design your program. On-Demand Program Annual Operating Cost Projected Annual Ridership Projected Cost Per Trip Thorpe Loop Microtransit $170,000 22,900 $7.42 University Heights Microtransit $298,000 22,100 $13.46 County Club/Industrial Microtransit $381,000 30,750 $12.39 Late-Night TNC $131,000 12,200 $10.75 Doney Park TNC $599,000 43,600 $13.75 Source: NAIPTA Table 16. New services recommended in On-Demand Study.