Join Naomi Schellenberg, Mentor’s Client Care Manager, for a quick, 1-minute overview of the best ways to promote driver acceptance when implementing AVL/MDT technology in your transit business. New technology, even when it makes work easier, can be met with resistance from drivers. Naomi will share her expert tips on how to engage drivers from the start.
Learn how Number 1 Transit manages tight budgets, rising fuel costs, and a growing client base by implementing a fleet management system. Safer driving practices, reduced fuel costs, and less vehicle wear and tear are just some of the benefits. Watch this short demo to learn why a fleet management system is important for Paratransit operations.
Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) are being used extensively in virtually any industry that employs a fleet of vehicles, and are especially valuable to paratransit organizations. The benefits of AVL/MDT technology combined with scheduling and routing software for paratransit agencies is clear: managers and office staff can use these technologies to improve on-time performance, streamline operations and reporting, and improve customer service.
The information provided by using this combination of technologies helps managers make more efficient use of their resources; it also enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of paratransit operations. While these are all great benefits for any paratransit agency, scheduling software, even when combined with AVL/MDT technologies, only goes so far.
Often overlooked is the effectiveness of fleet management technologies when applied to paratransit operations. A typical fleet management solution addresses not only vehicle location and status information, but goes further to increase driver and passenger safety, extend the life of each vehicle in the fleet, provide the ability to monitor and improve driver behavior, and decrease overall operating costs.
An effective paratransit operation starts with scheduling and routing software and then moves beyond to include mobile data integration and fleet management. This white paper will discuss what a comprehensive paratransit fleet management solution includes, the benefits of implementing a fleet management solution, and provide guidance on how to select the right solution.
The Ashland Bus System (ABS) operates paratransit buses in the cities of Ashland, Cattlesburg and Westwood, Kentucky. As a relatively small agency, ABS provides over 1200 door-to-door paratransit trips for elderly or disabled passengers each month. In 2009, ABS decided to upgrade their existing scheduling and dispatching software and add mobile data computers to their buses. ABS selected a technology solution which combined Mentor Ranger® in-vehicle computers with Engraph’s ParaPlan GPS 4.0 in the office in hopes of increasing efficiency and ridership. Michele Whitlock, Operations Manager at Ashland Bus System, spoke to us about the impact this technology has had on her agency.
When you decided to equip your fleet with mobile data computers, what was your company looking for in a technology provider?
We were looking for a technology company that can match us in our growth. We are a relatively small operation so we needed something that was adaptable to our needs while being honed down for a smaller operation. Additionally, the system itself needed to be easily adaptable as our needs changed.
How has the system changed how dispatchers interact with drivers?
The greatest improvement is that it’s reduced the amount of chatter we have with one another. It’s a great help that we can communicate electronically with the Rangers. The system has eliminated the verbal chatter over the radios and made it more efficient. Now, we’re not trying to explain something to a driver, they are able to see a written description of what they need to do; and that makes a big difference.
Has the system improved your ability to make on-the-fly schedule changes?
It has as we can transfer trips from one driver to another if they are getting a little backed up. Transferring trips is a very simple process which is great for us.
Do the drivers like the Ranger system?
You know change is not always easy, especially with some of the more veteran staff but they have come to rely on the Rangers. In the rare occasion that we have outages, they have more difficulty than the days when everything is working. They’ve become so used to it and it’s such a part of their daily activity now that they’re a little lost without it; and that’s a good thing.
Has your data entry time been reduced?
Yes, for the office side that’s one of our greatest attributes. There are only three of us that do paperwork, dispatching, call taking, and reporting. The system has really reduced the amount of office time that’s taken up with paperwork, so we can have more time in the field and more time to actually review what’s going on.
From your perspective, what’s the greatest benefit of the system?
We’re seeing the most benefit in the efficiency of our scheduling, both before the day starts and throughout the course of the day with dispatch. Dispatching is now a very easy, simple process. It’s freed us to do many other things because we know we can send a trip in five seconds then go back to what we were doing.
What was your experience with the technology implementation and the support you’ve received?
We’ve had nothing but a positive experience. There are always hiccups along the way no matter what you do but I think the greatest credit is how the resolution has been handled. The service has always been courteous and prompt, we have a great relationship with both technology partners. I would certainly encourage others to come join with us.
Releasing an RFP is a substantial undertaking and oftentimes it’s the little details that are forgotten. Before release be sure to double-check:
Consistency of dates (pre-bid conference, question period, due date, etc.) throughout the document.
All pertinent contact information. Make sure the delivery address is a physical location and not a P.O. Box to allow for courier delivery of proposals.
Details such as the number of copies requested as well as the type of electronic copy desired (CD, USB key or email) are clearly specified.
Font size and legibility of copy delivered to vendors.
Forms that need to be manipulated by vendors are sent in an editable format (unlocked Microsoft Word document or PDF).
Information on where to access attachments and addenda is clearly stated.
By ensuring that all of these details are met, vendor time is freed to focus on the more important parts of their RFP responses. Your agency will also have fewer administrative questions to answer after the RFP’s release.
2. Provide Relevant Information About Your Agency
Be sure to include all relevant information about your agency and its current operations within the RFP. This should include details about any in-office computer equipment, servers and software currently used, as well as the number and types of vehicles in your fleet. This information will allow vendors to format their responses specifically to your agency and current resources which will save time and money during the implementation.
3. Establish Reasonable Timelines
It is normal to want the procurement process to proceed as quickly as possible to begin benefitting from your Transit ITS Solution; however, it is important to give vendors adequate time to respond to your proposal to the best of their ability. Below is a reasonable timeframe for generating a response to a Transit ITS RFP:
Release of RFP to Pre-Bid Meeting Date………………………………………. 2 weeks Pre-Bid Meeting Date to Deadline for Questions Submission………………… 2 weeks Deadline for Questions Submission to Agency Response to Questions………. 1 week Agency Response to Questions to RFP Due Date ……………………. at least 2 weeks
4. Give Vendors an Idea of Your Budget
If possible, ask vendors for preliminary pricing information when establishing your budget to ensure it accurately reflects your desired functionality. If this is not possible, publish your budget, or at least present a budget range, to allow vendors to present a solution that will be within budgetary constraints.
5. Require a Standardized Proposal Format
Requiring vendors to follow a standardized proposal format allows you to more easily compare and evaluate RFP responses. This is especially pertinent for the price proposal and compliance matrix sections. A standardized version of these forms will enable simple side-by-side comparison of vendor offerings and price points.
6. Use References Wisely
References from existing customers are one of the best ways to evaluate a vendor’s service and technical solution in a real-world setting. Requiring at least five customer references from completed projects similar to yours will help ensure the vendor’s solution is proven and works in the field. This is also a great way to get valuable first-hand feedback about a vendor’s support and service.
7. Do Not Make Price Your Only Determinant
With the multitude of factors present in evaluating responses to a Transit ITS RFP, it may seem logical and easiest to pick the response with the lowest price. However, the lowest price could also mean lower levels of functionality, support and vendor reputation.
Because the success of a Transit ITS implementation relies heavily on procuring the correct functionality and support for your agency, it is important to weigh factors other than price during evaluation. One way to ensure price is not an overriding factor is to request pricing information be submitted separately from the rest of the proposal. This will allow the evaluation committee to choose the response that best addresses your needs without being influenced by price.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Easter Seals Project ACTION launched an online dialogue about the role of paratransit operations. Between July 26 and Aug 6, 2010, people from across the country weighed in on issues shaping the paratransit industry, from the best way to comply with ADA requirements, to planning for the future. To read more about the various reactions and thoughts on this subject, click here.
Kerr Area Rural Transportation System (KARTS), located in Hendersen, NC, transports more than 160,000 paratransit passengers a year on 42 vehicles. KARTS also provides trips to the cities of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. Their Paratransit ITS System was implemented in March 2009 and Rob Brink, Director at KARTS, shares some of the changes he’s seen since the implementation.
1. Have you seen a change in how dispatchers and drivers communicate?
It’s really night and day as far as the totality of the communication process has improved from tracking where drivers are and not having to radio them, but also being able to insert trips and cancellations and getting no-shows back. The biggest improvement is just the seamlessness of it. There’s things that can be done now that might have taken 10 minutes that can now be done instantaneously.
2. Has the system affected the complaint resolution process?
Dispatchers are able to focus more on the call, because they don’t have the radio noise in the background. Also, they’re able to give customers better answers when they ask where their vehicle is or how much longer their vehicle is going to be. Also, dispatchers are able to take care of customer’s needs more immediately because if somebody calls and says they are ready to be picked up, the dispatcher can go ahead and just send a message right out to the driver while that customer is still on the phone. This has reduced customer wait times.
3. Has the system affected on your fleet’s on-time performance?
Definitely in the way that we are able to track it. Before we had this system, there was no real-time data to base our on-time performance off of. Also, with the real-time functionality we now can see if the driver is falling behind and assist them in keeping on-time.
4. Have you noticed any environmental benefits to using the system?
We probably use 25% of the paper we were using prior to the system. Before, we were running a detailed manifest for all the drivers which were about 10-20 page documents. We’ve reduced that to trip summaries which are only 1 to 2 pages.
5. Where have you seen the most changes in your operation?
The communication aspect of the system is the biggest benefit. Being able to communicate with all drivers at one time, seamlessly, is very valuable. Not having to key up the radio and announce to everyone on the vehicles what’s going on and being able to send drivers those messages, move trips and cancel trips, has really been the biggest benefit.
Inter-County Public Transportation Authority (ICPTA) schedules more than 470 trips per day for paratransit customers within Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden and Currituck counties. Located in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, ICPTA implemented their Paratransit ITS Solution in July 2009. Herb Mullen, Director of ICPTA, shared some of the improvements his agency has seen since the implementation.
1. Were there drawbacks to the manual processes you were using before the ITS system?
A major drawback was man power. The only tools we had to manage routes were communicating with our drivers over the radio, randomly following them, or reviewing their manifest after they turned it in the next day. We had no efficient means of monitoring our drivers in real-time. The major draw back to the radio system was the overabundance of information that was being communicated between drivers and the office. We had drivers and the office talking over each other during busy times of the day; which made it difficult to ensure all communication concerning pick-ups, drop-offs, and route changes were being received by our staff. Implementing the Mentor Rangers solved this problem. Now dispatchers can shoot drivers the information and they can confirm they got it instantly. We don’t have to wonder if they got it, we know they got it. We can now manipulate and move trips around the driver’s manifest without having to involve the drivers, which is nice! It seems we’ve always had a few drivers that would avoid volunteering to assist others if there was a route delay and we’ve always had a few that would over extend themselves trying to assist others with their routes which could cause them to fall behind. Now the decision is made in our dispatch office by looking at our entire operation in real-time. This global, real-time view allows dispatch to evenly disperse trips to drivers throughout the day which improves route efficiency and customer satisfaction.
2. Have you seen a change in how dispatchers and drivers communicate?
Everything is more efficient. For example, before when dispatchers called a trip out to a driver they would announce, “The driver with John Doe, please pick him up at the hospital,” and hope that that driver heard it. That driver may have been on a bathroom break, assisting a client, or unable to hear the call because of other conversation occurring on the radio system. Dispatch would listen for the driver to respond with a 10-4, but they had no real way of knowing if the driver they intended to receive the radio transmission got it or if the 10-4 they heard was in response to another radio communication that could not be heard by dispatch. Now dispatchers send trips directly to the Ranger and the drivers acknowledge they received the trip instantly, which is a real time saver and a real frustration killer.
3. Has the new system affected customer service?
That aspect of the system has been wonderful. Before we would have to put the clients on hold and ask the drivers for an ETA. Now, with the Rangers, dispatchers can use the AVL feature to actually pull up a map of the service area and look to see where the vehicle is. The dispatcher can then say with accuracy,”they are two miles from your house,” or wherever they may be.
4. Where have you seen the most changes in your operation?
Improved communication and decision making. You don’t wonder who’s doing what or where they are. You can look and see where every vehicle is, who’s on board, and how fast they are going. Communication in this business is everything, if we ever get even a minor breakdown in it everything goes to pieces. The Rangers have definitely improved communication and route efficiency. We now have all of the information that used to take days to compile right in front of us in real-time, which equates to the following: better information to make better decisions that enable increased efficiency and, ultimately, improved customer satisfaction.
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.
Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wake Coordinated Transportation Services manages the contractors who provide trips throughout Wake County. The agency has been using a complete Paratransit ITS Solution since June 2009. Ray Woodall, Transportation Broker, discusses the benefits ITS has brought to his operation.
1. Have you seen a change in how dispatchers and drivers communicate?
All of the dispatchers are alive! No, actually, there’s been a very significant improvement in terms of the communication between drivers and dispatchers because with mobile computers, dispatchers can send trips directly to the vehicles. This frees up dispatchers to provide drivers with additional information they may need throughout the day. Plus it’s helped clarify addresses, names, destinations and things like that. When dispatchers repeat details over the radio it doesn’t necessarily get translated in the same way as when it’s written down on a driver manifest. With the system, drivers have the written information right in front of them on their screen. That has helped them to improve their ability to deliver services and increase their on-time performance as well.
2. Has the system affected the complaint resolution process?
It has helped some customer complaints drop, particularly with issues of being on time or late for pickups. We have seen a reduction in the number of monthly complaints that we had been receiving. If there is a complaint that is lodged because of a late pickup or drop off, we can go in and use the data from the mobile computer to tell the passenger “this is when the driver arrived” and “this is how long you were on the vehicle.” A lot of times when a complaint comes in saying, “it took me two hours to get home,” when you give them the data from the Ranger it turns out to be thirty minutes. It’s made it a lot easier to resolve those issues because it’s kind of tough to argue with the hard data. Now that customers know we can do that, it’s helped contribute to a reduction in those types of complaints.
3. Have you seen any changes in the office and bus work environments since you started using the system?
The stress level has gone down considerably. Radio traffic has decreased in terms of providing additions or changes to the schedule but we have been able to use the radio to provide other types of information to drivers, such as daily safety messages and more general information about traffic or construction issues. Dispatchers have been able to use the radios to provide that type of information instead of devoting so much radio time to modifications and schedule changes. It’s been a win-win on both sides, with the mobile computers and the use of the radio.
4. Has the data entry process been affected?
The time we spend on data entry has absolutely lessened. When I used to go into the scheduling application I would have to go back at least 7-10 days to pull up verified data. Now I can go in and the services that were done, for example, on Monday, are available for me to review on Tuesday because they’ve already been verified. We’ve been able to have the verification clerk assume other duties because the automatic data entry has simplified the process for her.
5. Has the system affected your fleet’s on-time performance?
We’ve seen a significant increase. We have an on-time performance requirement in our contracts with our vendors. In order to meet the requirements of the contract, they have to be at a performance level, for example, of 92% for the month. We’ve seen that go up on average 2 to 4 points per month. The only time that we see any issues with that is when they first bring new hires on board. The percentage will drop slightly for a couple of weeks, but it starts climbing right back up again. We’ve had some great success as far as on-time performance goes.
6. Where have you seen the most changes in your operation?
The greatest change that we have seen is the improvements in the ways that the drivers, schedulers, and dispatchers are doing the scheduling. With dispatch being able to do on-the-fly changes it’s certainly helped keep the schedules more in-line with using vehicles as efficiently as possible, which in turn improves on-time performance. There’s also been an improvement in the quality of data we’ve been able to get back from the vehicles with the mobile computers.
A blog for those of us who live and work in fleet management. Topics include engine diagnostics, driver safety, mobile workforce management, CAD/AVL, vehicle maintenance, truck distribution, global computing, work order management, and field services.
Free White Paper: Beyond AVL. A Guide to Selecting a More Effective Mobile Workforce Management Solution
This white paper will discuss what a comprehensive mobile workforce management solution includes, the benefits of a solution, and provides direction for selecting the right solution for your business.