With today’s rapid evolution of technology, it can be difficult for transit agencies to choose a path that will help them serve their communities. Frederick County, Maryland’s TransIT provides a good example in how to do it right, embracing technology in a way that leverages the scarce resources available to maximize service to the customers who depend on them for mobility.
Know Your Needs
TransIT makes sure to know what it needs from its technological investments, then chooses the programs that best address the agency’s goals. It’s not chasing tech just for the sake of having it, but methodically exploring new tools that can help deploy their fleet in the most effective way.
This is especially important considering transit funding has remained flat for years while costs have risen. All the agency can afford to do is reshuffle what it already has, with barely any ability to expand its service.
Joe Ortega, assistant director of operations, explains that tools like automated passenger counters and mobile ticketing provide a wealth of information about passenger behavior. These tools show who is using TransIT, by tracking fare types, where the system is most used, and when people are riding. With this, the planners gain insights that allow them to tweak services to reach more potential riders.
Despite their innovative use of technology, TransIT is aware that their customer base is not entirely plugged in – in addition to a mobile ticketing app, they also made sure to keep a text-based mobile ticketing option that allows non-smart phone users to easily access the same information.
Adopting the right technology goes a long way in smoothing operations and cutting costs, which can provide staff an opportunity to better manage mobility for their communities.
The passenger counters streamline information gathering and save drivers from manually logging passenger movements. Mobile ticketing has freed up even more time: Ortega, who had joined TransIT when the agency still used paper passes, says that it would take up to eight hours for an administrator to sort the tickets by hand, and another four to compile the information.
In the office, TransIT keeps up with software that helps with effective fixed-route planning and demand-response dispatching.
Working with Route Shout and Remix, the agency’s planners are able to harness vast amounts of information, from their own passenger statistics and public sets such as U.S. Census data, that help to examine potential changes and identify where fixed-route services are most needed.
For TransIT-plus, their demand-response service, the agency has capitalized on their software to more efficiently route their vehicles as well as successfully reduce the no-show or cancellation rates, an issue that affects by paratransit operators nationwide. TransIT-Plus found that by using the software to add in a reminder the day before a scheduled ride, and also an alert when the shuttle is en route, people showed up more reliably and no show rates decreased.
The most visible technological investment, though, is TransIT’s growing fleet of all-electric buses. These, despite a higher up-front cost, save tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs, and it takes little time to make up for the higher price tag, while streamlining fleet maintenance and, as a bonus, being better for the environment.
When available, technological advances can be an exciting opportunity for transit agencies. Using these options in innovative ways can address the increasing pressure to do more with less. Through streamlined information gathering, smoother operations, and smarter routing , technology creates the space for providers to maximize mobility for their community.
Image Credit: Andrew Carpenter, CTAA
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