In the past, riders had to navigate a maze of various transportation services to figure out the most expeditious route to their destination. Now, customers can access comprehensive information from dedicated hotline phones, telephone info line and this Web site. BlueGO now offers riders a seamless travel experience. With one centralized management center in charge of coordinating all vehicles, software to track locations and progress, and a host of different services from which to choose, riders benefit from improved timeliness, easy-to-use ride request options and an environmentally friendly service.”
All services are operated by a private contractor, Area Transit Management, under several contracts. A board of directors manages BlueGO and?approves operational changes to the system. Fixed-routes cover South Lake Tahoe on both the California and Nevada side. Curb-to-curb and?paratransit?on-demand services are offered to the general public, although ADA customers are given priority. The services are well used, particularly after hours by shift workers in the tourist entertainment industry.
Technology for the project included CAD/AVL equipment on all vehicles to track their location and to communicate work assignments in real time; scheduling/dispatch software that could modify vehicle routing dynamically in response to trip requests; and kiosks and automated telephones for making trip requests, cancellations and confirmations directly into the scheduling/dispatch software.
Five years into the project Nick Haven, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) transportation programs manager, talked about some of the lessons learned. “In retrospect, some of the technology was overkill for the size of the system and the cost of maintaining it was not anticipated.” This resulted in a return to manual dispatch and?transition from expensive CAD/AVL?to more economical equipment. However, integrated operation out of a single dispatch/call center has sustained a significant increase to ridership on most fixed-routes and demand services. TRPA has made use of EPA, ITS and Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funding to?limit the use of FTA grants. This was done because FTA grants treat the two types of service separately and put some restrictions on?operations and maintenance contracting.
WHAT ARE THE INGREDIENTS?
Drawing from the experience of South Tahoe and other transit agencies that are moving into integrated service delivery, two ingredients are important to success. First, planning, scheduling, dispatch and on-street management of the two types of service must be coordinated. Second, the approach to service must be “customer-centric,” establishing a direct connection in real time between customers making trip requests, and the deployment of vehicles on the street.
The process of integrating service starts with a new look at how fixed-route and paratransit operations are managed by public transit authorities. Most public transit agencies have two separate divisions. The paratransit division often provides service exclusively to ADA customers, rather than offering it to the general public as well. However, in the last few years there is increasing coordination between the two. For example, New Jersey Transit is one of several properties where the paratransit call center uses automated trip-planning software running on the fixed-route database to try and find ADA customers a trip on an accessible bus. More small and medium-sized agencies are planning and contracting out both fixed-route and paratransit to the same private operator, although often these are separate contracts. Still, among larger systems, union resistance to contracting out fixed-route operations remains an obstruction to delivering integrated services.
Automation can play a large part in the effort to integrate services. Vendors of scheduling, dispatch and operations software have generally supplied different products for fixed-route and for demand-response services, but this situation is also changing.
Fixed-route software still mainly deals with generating schedules, translating these into pieces of work for vehicles (blocks) and drivers (runs), and then managing and tracking deployment on to the street. Paratransit software manages a client group, and processes client trip requests and cancellations into a pick-up/drop-off schedule, or manifest, for each vehicle.
Many paratransit operators “batch” process trip requests into vehicle manifests hours before they are dispatched, and make trip cancellations or inserts manually while the vehicle is on the road.