Improve demand response transit using ITS technology, including CAD/AVL, with Mobile Data Terminals and electronic ID cards.
- The Computer Assisted Dispatching/Automatic Vehicle Location System can be a primary tool for managing demand response transit systems. Mobile Data Terminals feed critical information into scheduling software which is used to assign trip requests to specific routes. The system also helps to identify vehicles that are beginning to fall behind schedule, which allows dispatchers to be more proactive in problem-solving.
- Real-time AVL is useful in many ways. Automatic vehicle location gives paratransit call-takers the ability to give patrons estimates of the arrival times of their pick-up vehicles. This is especially helpful when pick-ups are running late and patrons are getting anxious. AVL allows the paratransit dispatching staff to provide a reasonably close estimate of arrival times to passengers calling to find out when their overdue bus will arrive. This is an important customer service function.
- While short notice requests can be handled in some manner by most paratransit systems, AVL greatly facilitates this process and increases the likelihood that the best choice of pick-up vehicle will be made. It also is of great assistance in scheduling delayed return trips. It gives the dispatcher the capability to see in real time which vehicle is the closest to the requested pick-up point.
Advanced public transportation technologies offer many advantages for demand response transit systems.
- Automated scheduling and dispatching software can also help to provide better customer service. The assignment of requested trips to specific vehicles for busy systems, if done manually, is a complex and time-consuming task. Most paratransit systems operating more than a handful of vehicles have purchased scheduling software of some degree of sophistication to help in this process. Agencies using the least sophisticated packages normally require one or more days notice for requested trips. The more advanced software can quickly determine the best placement for trip requests, and allows agencies to accept trips on short notice, thereby providing better customer service. The most advanced software can also send the vehicle routing to the driver automatically via a Mobile Data Terminal. In the event of a cancellation or no-show, scheduling and dispatching software attempts to fill the space created by the cancellation/no-show, while keeping other scheduled customers on time, and mitigating the effects on productivity. Also, the automated scheduling and dispatching software interacts with the Mobile Data Terminals through radio communications to provide drivers with their scheduled pick-ups and drop-offs.
- Automated scheduling and dispatching software can also be useful in managing paratransit services that are contracted out to several vendors. One agency’s experience with computer-assisted routing and dispatch system has provided them with consistency in the efficiency of their several service providers, bringing stability to their paratransit program, and showing them where they can consolidate service and take excess vehicles off the street.
Mobile Data Terminals have proven to be very effective communications devices.
- Text messages can be sent between the dispatch office and paratransit vehicles via MDT. This capability offers several benefits to paratransit agencies. It provides dispatchers with immediate contact to the vehicles, helps reduce voice communications between drivers and dispatchers, virtually eliminates communications mistakes, and automates some formerly manual record keeping functions. For some agencies, it has proven to be a lot faster than voice and cuts down on the amount of voice traffic and communication errors. The drivers no longer have to remember or write down pick-up and drop-off changes to their schedule. The record of pick-ups and drop-offs are automatically logged now, whereas that was previously a manual operation. Overall, the degree of paperwork is considerably less.
Electronic ID cards facilitate trip validation and billing for social service agency clients.
- The use of electronic ID cards, which are read on-board the vehicles, is a useful method for validating a passenger’s eligibility for social service agency subsidized trip-making, for documenting that the passenger was actually picked up, and providing the information for subsequent billing. The automated identification card interacts with the MDTs to identify the customer to the driver and to verify trip eligibility. The use of the card creates a trip record that is used to insure that any trip maker’s sponsoring agency is charged appropriately for the trip.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) support paratransit route development.
- GIS enables paratransit systems to identify the origins and destinations of trip requests. When these are plotted on maps, agencies can use the emerging patterns to select the most effective service strategies. This is perhaps most useful in developing paratransit routes for serving repetitive trips for social service agency clients. The ability to geocode trip origins and destinations using GIS has enabled the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority to optimize the routes for their social service agency contract services. GIS has also been useful in analyzing welfare-to-work trip possibilities by locating potential employees and potential employers.