Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Demonstration: DART First and Last Mile Solution
As a part of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox Demonstration, this pilot study aimed to improve first mile/last mile (FMLM) access to Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) transit for all people including individuals with disabilities, improve the experience of transit, increase transit ridership, and provide more transit options for riders in underserved areas. The GoPass application (app), DART’s existing regional mobile app, was modified and enhanced through this pilot to facilitate first and last mile connections to offer transit riders travel options based on price, wait time, travel time, and payment. This study implemented a three-phase approach by leveraging the Application Programming Interfaces (API) of key mobility partners and providers during 2017-2018 in the Legacy West, Plano and Far North Plano (FNP) areas: first, a Microtransit app, called GoLink, was developed; second, a smart app switch which included metadata information connected GoLink with GoPool (a pre-existing carpooling app) was created; and finally, the complete integration of GoLink was accomplished. DART’s GoLink app offered microtransit services through collaboration with a microtransit provider and Transportation Network Company (TNC) to pilot areas that did not have bus services before, and provided mid-day service to restaurants and shops that previously had not been available. Moreover, in Phase 3, the upgraded GoPass app provided on demand travel information for multimodal trips and provided a remittance mechanism for payment. DART also started an UberPool program in three Plano GoLink zones in March 2019 to offer another MOD option at a lower rate (DART subsidized the difference between the DART rate and the actual cost of the Uber trip). Both quantitative and qualitative evaluations were conducted using trip activity data and a user survey to assess performance.
- Check the voltage of the driver devices. These devices must be charged during revenue service hours. For the DART project, a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) was developed to replace devices that failed in the field during revenue service. Spare driver devices were also purchased to support multiple simultaneous in-field failures. To assist in troubleshooting, personnel were on hand during the hours of operation.
- Run rigorous end-to-end testing to find bugs in technology and to identify rider issues and potential vehicle issues. Any issues must be reported to the developer of the app for correction. The operations department, staff, and customer volunteers were recruited to assist with the testing of the app in the DART project. The additional support of these departments during the study’s initial testing to final execution were essential for the growth of the study.
- Give a demonstration of the proposed software before it is selected and ensure that the software of the MOD service is driver-, reservations-, and dispatch-friendly. It had been noted in the DART project that the staff responsible for implementing the technology had been an integral part of MOD’s operational success. The ability of the staff to adapt to the technology in addition to its user-friendliness for the drivers and dispatchers, were both essential to the success of the MOD service. The software also contained a reporting function which assisted in scheduling, routing, and dispatching of the transit vehicles. Prior to any deployment, it was recommended that a demonstration of the proposed software be given before it is selected.
- Provide formal classes and possible retraining for both the AM and PM shift drivers. In the DART project, a technology provider was called into each class to guide the drivers on changes made to the technology. Via web-cam presentation, drivers viewed and practiced working with the changes. Contractor staff were also available for drivers who missed formal classes or needed follow-up instruction.
- Consider limitations with the supply and demand of matching riders with drivers in the pilot locations. There must be a balance with drivers seeking riders, and riders seeking a ride. The GoPool app in this study had the number of drivers to never exceed six, when the number of riders were around 100. The lack of drivers can also be attributed to the difficulty of the background check process and the nature of the low density service area.