How Paratransit Software Improves Trip Booking

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1 How Paratransit Software Improves Trip Booking

2 1 The Secrets To Better Trip Booking Much of the information that we try to express in our day-to-day communication is with regards to the major differences between manual and digital data entry. Very often a paratransit agency will continue to employ manual systems simply because they have been place for decades. There is a misperception that the amount of work required to train employees and implement software will be costly and time-consuming. When looking at the total life-span of a business, upgrading systems now will greatly save time and money in the long run. As the aged population increases in relation to the demand for paratransit services, agencies are going to need to operate more efficiently, using fewer resources to enable more trips. In this industry insight, we single out the issue of trip booking and all the elements and issues that contribute to the call in-take process. While there are a myriad of benefits to automation, this one area is a great example of how inefficiencies can become a huge time and money waster. In order to book trips better, you either need to dramatically improve your manual in-take methods, or discover the advantages to paratransit software solutions. Either way, agencies are going to need to book trips better in order to remain competitive in a market filled with an increasing amount of private operators. The Business Case for Automation The principles of trip booking haven t changed that much in the last century. In many ways, the core philosophy behind creating a successful business hasn t changed either. All businesses seek to improve service by adding new features. All rely upon customer feedback in order to create the best experience possible. They also need to respond to complaints and answer questions. They all look for areas of inefficiency in order to cut wasteful spending. They seek to make their employees happier and to address their clients needs. If your business plan doesn t include these basic principles, it s not going to last long. All businesses have moved into the digital era to some degree. The Internet is changing the way that clients interact with companies. In response, companies are adapting by developing better lines of communication with their clients. In fact, both employees and clients expect a greater continuity between their needs and the service offerings they receive. When paratransit agencies book a trip, a subscription trip, group trips, or a multi-leg trip, they are on the clock. Riders have an expectation of quality service. How much time does it take you to book any of the trips listed above? The odds are, the time taken is significant and accounts for a hefty portion of your daily operation. This is, of course, assuming that your call takers, dispatchers, drivers and schedulers are all working with manual data entry methods. how much time can be saved by making the move towards paratransit software. In their case, inefficiencies were creating an enormous drain on resources and they even found themselves running empty vehicles. [We] save approximately one hour of scheduling and report time each day -Whitehorse Transit Whitehorse is a comparatively small city with a population of around 28,000 people. You can imagine that an agency serving an even larger ridership and geographic area can see even greater time savings. Depending upon the size of your operation and the number of trips per day you make, trip booking can be improved exponentially. Luis Pino at Hill Country Transit District has over 180 vehicles serving an area of over square miles. Luis describes the early days of scheduling for the Hop as being tedious, saying, if we needed to add a trip, we had to radio our drivers to see who was closest to the pickup location. Once a software solution was in place, Luis explains, what used to take all day for our schedulers is now done in a fraction of the time. If your agency is similar to one of our software partners, Whitehorse Transit, you may be interested to know exactly

3 2 The Story of a Booking Let s take a look at an example of a typical trip booking (along with typical issues) as it moves along the workflow from: the initial call up until the trip is scheduled. 1. Client calls in requesting a trip. Your operator writes down the client s name and then looks up the information in their database: this might be a spreadsheet or a paper filing system. 2. The trip type and eligibility information is cross-checked. Assuming that the spreadsheet has been updated recently, the trip booker then enters the same information that is on the spreadsheet onto a booking slip. If the original information is incorrect, the trip may be ineligible, but managers won t know this until after the trip has been performed. Transcription errors can interfere with the eligibility of a trip. 3. If a rider has a mobility issue and requires a vehicle that accommodates special needs, medical equipment, etc., this information needs to be added at this time. Is this data up to date? Is this data on-hand? Consider what happens if the wrong vehicle is deployed and the amount of time that can be wasted fixing the problem. 5. Let s say that another three clients make trip requests and they all live in a similar area to the first caller. Two days have passed since the initial booking. Does the operator remember the address of the first caller s pickup location? Is it even the same operator, or is it someone simply reviewing a collection of jotted down notes? Will each of these trips need to be scheduled separately, or will your scheduler be able to intuit the efficiency of scheduling these three clients together? How many more riders can you book for this group trip until it is full? Will you know when this occurs? 6. Perhaps a client wants to book a trip in the following way: I want to go to the mall for an hour. What do you currently do in this situation? Do you tell the driver that they may have to wait around for an hour until the pick-up occurs? Do you move them onto another trip and hope that this deviation will fit inside the window of time required to get back to the mall for the return ride? Do you estimate where another vehicle may be during that part of the day in order to reroute them onto the return ride trip? 4. Another trip booking variation may be that the client wants to book a subscription trip. They need to travel every third Monday a month, except the third Monday in September when they ll be on vacation. The call taker most likely attempts the same booking procedure as described above, but must also add a note to remind all stakeholders about the impending suspension in the subscription. Will this get remembered? What happens if it is forgotten? There are many variations on how each trip can occur. How have you been handling this variation and unpredictability? How predictable and dependable has your service been in the past? These are the hard questions that all agencies need to ask themselves in order to gain the insight needed to make the decision whether to migrate towards automated scheduling or continue using a manual method. The Main Problem with the Manual Method Efficiency. What should be apparent in the trip booking examples listed above is how vulnerable the system is to a breakdown due to data entry error. On top of potential errors, everyone s job is slowed down when a staff member needs to look up a piece of information in order to proceed to the next step in the trip booking process. As stated, if information has been entered incorrectly, or is out of date, a number of problems can occur: 1. Trip type may not be eligible. 2. Passenger may not be eligible. 3. Address may be incorrect. 4. Vehicle deployed may not match passenger s medical needs. 5. Extra load-in/out times may go unaccounted for, causing delays. 6. Phone number is wrong, causing communication breakdown. 7. Vacations can get forgotten in subscriptions, deploying a vehicle in error. If any of these errors occur, dispatchers will need to inform drivers using a cellphone or radio. If a customer complaint is phoned in, operators will need to take the time to track down the error, review the original call intake as well as review the client s personal, medical and trip information. How long will

4 3 it take to resolve an error that never should have occurred in the first place? How quickly can you send out changes in the schedule to drivers on the road? We have more data and more and more data accuracy, which gives us the ability to operate more efficient routes and runs. -The Hop If the wrong vehicle is deployed to a client with special needs, this can greatly stall the trip and even endanger the life of the rider. This is because of the time it will take to redeploy an appropriate vehicle. With all the variables in play, can you be sure that the trip will occur on time? Are you able to proactively track delays in real time? Can you guarantee it to your riders? Address Errors Before They Occur Out of the box, your paratransit software solution should be able to facilitate client registration. Your software system should be able to identify multiple funding sources for a variety of trip types and even prioritize them. This is to prevent errors at booking time that can lead to an ineligible trip and a loss of income. As stated before, this is a problem that should never occur. A digital data entry system is there to prevent a simple error from snowballing out of control. Duration of Stay Trips Not all paratransit software solutions can provide the important functions that you need. It s suggested that you ask your vendor of choice if their algorithm is able to manage Duration of Stay Trips. In the case (as described above) where a client requests a trip with a specific duration, the software should be able to adjust in order to determine the best pick-up and drop off times. This is one of those services that appears simple (on the surface) but carries with it a great deal of operational authority. Your clients can book trips in the way that they like. They don t think of themselves as a number on a spreadsheet, nor a piece of cargo that is being moved throughout a city in an optimal fashion. They only consider their destinations, times and level of comfort. When a reservationist talks to a client, they should be able to offer transportation services that feel easy to use. With a powerful scheduling algorithm to back up their operation, a call taker can confidently say that a client s trip will be honored and that a return ride is guaranteed. Granular Subscription Rules All scheduling software should enable you to book subscription trips. However, you should look more closely at the software s total range of functionality. When booking a subscription trip, there are a lot of variables that can confuse a simple booking. Even using a digital system to book a subscription can create errors. If a client requires a recurring trip, but is also planning a vacation for two weeks, an entry may have to be made on the fly in order to pause trips for a designated duration. This can happen in the actual moments before the trip, or the day before the suspension will take place. Again, errors can intervene, and a system can dispatch a vehicle when it shouldn t. This is why it would be better and safer to configure the subscription OR the client record (which is preferred) to account for a suspension of service long before it occurs. Talk to your vendor to learn whether you can manage subscriptions using a calendar interface and suspensions can be booked in advance. Ask if their software can adjust the schedule automatically during the time of suspension. This is one of those features that can prevent errors before schedulers need to deal with them in real time. Booking by Geography An efficient feature that paratransit software is the ability to identify clusters of clients traveling to and/or from the same location and combine these trips during the scheduling process. Think of the time savings of being able to automatically book a number of trips during a single booking request. The key to being able to take advantage of geographic similarities in drop-off and pickup locations is be able to have a complete overview of your schedule, with an analysis of all the pertinent information. If your system only discovers one opportunity per month to combine appropriate rides, you will discover savings and service improvements. Flag Pick-ups / Drop Offs Not all trips are predictable, but they are all still important. If you are booking trips manually, how do you currently deal with an unregistered trip? An agency wants to be able to offer the best solution for that trip at that given time so that they can effectively accept a flag pick-up. The problem is that with the limited amount of time to make a decision, not all the scheduling data can be taken into account by a single person. It s impossible to make the numerous calculations that a paratransit software solution can do in seconds. We had to radio our drivers to see who was closest to the pickup location. -The Hop Your software should allow you to accept unregistered trips, even without a client name or address. The driver can store and record information to be reported at a later time if necessary. If an in-vehicle, mobile solution is available, it can automatically create the pick-up and drop off for the rider at the time of boarding.

5 4 Dispelling the Myth In terms of time and cost savings, paratransit software will pay for itself simply by streamlining the trip booking and scheduling process. There really is no magical secret to trip booking. Success comes from understanding your own operational needs and finding a solution that fits them. Automation is a tool that makes every aspect of trip booking, data entry, reporting and scheduling become far more resilient to errors and other unexpected circumstances. Because every agency is different, it s suggested that you analyze your current operation, talk to your staff and drivers and quantify some of their experiences into hard statistical data. If you examine your agency right now, can you assign an hourly and monetary amount to each of the operations described above? What is your time / cost allotment for: Recalling client info Verifying eligibility Handling a complaint Booking a subscription Managing a flag trip Training and upfront costs are the initial investment that will allow your agency to find savings in the future. That being said, remember that you also need to consider the long-term costs associated with paratransit software. Not all vendors continue to provide updates, ongoing training and support for the life of their products. This can and should influence your agency s decision to migrate to a digital system. If you want to see the Whitehorse Transit story up close, you can download it HERE; or for the full success story of the Hop, download it HERE. For more information or to book a demo of the software itself, visit.

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