Mountain Mobility has provided paratransit services to the residents of Buncombe County since 1989. Completing more than 500 trips per day with 42 vehicles, Mountain Mobility began using their Paratransit ITS System in January 2010. Lori Hembree, Director at Mountain Mobility, discusses the benefits ITS has brought to her agency.
1. Has the system changed how dispatchers interact with drivers?
Our dispatchers have become more proactive in monitoring driver schedules. They can monitor all the drivers and see whether they are running on-time, early or behind. With this information, they are able to move trips between vehicles without verbal communication or pencil and paper. Also, we can more easily accommodate customers who are early or miss their pick-up. This has helped us improve customer service and keep our on-time performance at an appropriate level.
2. Has the system affected your same-day scheduling procedures?
We didn’t change any of our policies in terms of on-the-fly schedule changes but we are able to accommodate people that are ready early. For example, customers that had a scheduled pick-up but the doctor finished with them two hours ahead of time. We’re much more able to accommodate them and provide a fairly accurate time for when they can expect the van to arrive. It also arrives more quickly than it did before we had the technology. So from that perspective, customer service has improved dramatically.
3. Have you seen changes in the office and bus work environments?
We’ve definitely cut back on radio communication, which has been a great improvement. Even drivers who thought they would dislike it, turned out to really like the technology. They like getting rid of the paper and not having to write everything down. They also like all the information they are able to access by touching the screen, and having turn-by-turn directions when needed.
Since we’re not using paper anymore, there’s been a lot less stress trying to verify trips and our validation process. We also have a lot more information to provide customer agencies that call to ask a question about a no-show. For example, we’ve had situations where an agency has called and said, “this person said they were waiting but the bus never came to pick them up.” We can now go and play back the route. We have the geographic location and the time stamps of all the vehicles so we can assure passengers the van was there and that it waited the required amount of time.
4. Has the system affected your fleet’s on-time performance?
We now have a more accurate reflection of what our on-time performance used to be. With paper records there were a lot of instances of drivers writing down rather suspect times. Now we now have a realistic picture of how much we’re on-time and I’m pretty happy with where it’s at.
5. At this stage in your agency’s growth, what do you think the impact of not having fleet management technology would be?
I think customers would start to notice things going backwards in terms of getting vehicles to them quickly and receiving accurate information over the phone. I think if we were to go backwards at this point we might lose our dispatchers entirely, they’d probably just walk away. Drivers can’t imagine having to go back to paper now. They really like having the computers on-board. So I think from that perspective we would see a revolt!
From the administrative side, I think people’s job stress would fly through the roof if we went back to the verification process we had prior to having the new system and having to try to deal with service issues when it was all a guessing game. I know in my job it would be hard trying to deal with a customer complaint if I couldn’t pull up that van and take a look at it live or play back its route for the day.