For now it’s just the two agencies, but he said the ultimate goal is to bring in several of the nearby cities to partner with the same program. The partnership has just started this fall and if it’s a success, they will work it out with other municipalities in the area.
He elaborates, “We’re still independent of Triangle Transit; our focus is on our community, our ridership, our visitors, our people.” He adds, “Triangle Transit understands that; they’re just giving us oversight.”
Caldwell also talks about working with regional service. “We’re going to be working together to make sure we stay in our vicinity of Durham, trying to provide senior service for our clients.”
The agencies are able to share costs and it is set up so clients outside the area of the county can have seamless service. “It makes it so the client won’t have to get off our van because they are going past our jurisdiction.”
Smith also talks about partnering with local universities to help subsidize the costs of the transportation services in the area. One such service is the Bull City Connector, a free service for the downtown corridor.
“We connect the downtown with Duke University Medical Center,” Smith says. “That’s actually funded in three forms. Duke University provides partial funding, the other funding comes from the city of Durham and procurement of the vehicles came through the federal government through ARRA funds.”
Started in late summer this year, Smith says the service has been going very well, averaging about 1,100 riders each day. “It’s been a well-received service,” he says. And they hope to extend the service a bit further to another local university, North Carolina Central University.
Increasing Ridership and Efficiency
Technology has been a benefit to the area in running efficient service and Smith looks for some new technology to be soon helping attract new riders.
“One technology that has been a real benefit starting off for us has been having the opportunity to establish an AVL system,” Smith explains. “We’ve been able to provide our customers with real-time information.
“We’re just now getting in to that, so that’s really going to be a benefit to all of our customers,” he adds. “This is a technology-rich area. It will help us tremendously to boost our ridership and those individuals that have been reluctant to take transit not knowing exactly how it worked, it would now give them more freedom to ride transit.”
Caldwell talks about how years ago, they had to do everything manually, making trips sheets and everything. “But now we have the scheduling software that when we book a trip, it decides the best route for it to go on, so it’s done by efficiency purposes.”
With the Trapeze software for the last three years, she says the only challenging part was when they had to input everything, all of the client information into the system. Then, as she says, the system did the rest.
“Increasing our productivity without decreasing our customer service; it’s kind of hard to do because what happens is, the more people who ride, the less one-on-one service they get,” says Caldwell. “With the scheduling software, it helps us maintain balance.
“I have to make sure we provide safe, convenient service and I also have to make sure that we increase ridership; it’s balancing both.”
Caldwell says what they’re trying to do now is to go through the riders that are certified and see how many people they can switch to fixed-route service. “Ones that are ambulatory and can ride with aid on the fixed-route, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Teaching clients what ADA means, that it doesn’t mean because you’re disabled you automatically are certified for the program is something they’ve been working on. “It’s just education on the client’s behalf.”
Going to association conferences, Caldwell says that everybody’s saying the same thing, the overload of paratransit. “I’ve been in transportation for 16 years and I’ve seen it where 16 years ago we were probably doing 4 to 500 trips a day and now we’re up to 800 trips a day. It’s been a tremendous growth.”