Trip booking is a step that takes place with demand-response transportation services, whether those trips are delivered by taxi, a paratransit service, a rural general public transit agency, a ride-hailing service, or others. The basic elements of trip booking include submitting a request for a trip, determining rider eligibility for that trip (if applicable), and responding with a confirmed reservation. Sometimes this process involves more intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations, such as brokering and exchanging trips between providers.
What is a reservation service?
A reservation service enables a user to request a trip. Demand-response services tend to require reservations anywhere from a few hours to a few days in advance of a trip; the latter is more common, although more systems are moving to 24-hour advance reservations, and some can even accommodate same-day or last-minute requests.
Reservations can be completed online through an app or web interface or through a call center that is connected to one or more service providers. In some cases, a reservation service is provided along with trip planning in a single One-Call/One-Click system; in other cases, it stands alone within a single agency. This is typical for services that already have a strong user base such as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complementary paratransit services operated by transit agencies. In addition, users of some demand-response services may be required to complete an eligibility determination process before they can reserve a trip. Eligibility criteria may pertain to their disability, age, veteran status, or other eligibility factors.
When a user submits a trip request, they enter their trip details and requirements. This information is sent to one or more providers for review and comparison with their capacity, and is also submitted for eligibility checks/verification processes (if applicable). If the trip request moves forward, the user is sent a confirmation that the trip has been accepted by a provider and is reserved. Any details regarding pick-up and drop-off are also shared at that time. Reservation services often, but not always, connect to trip payment platforms, since payment is a key function for trip completion.
Examples of systems with a reservation service:
What are trip brokerages and exchanges?
The next level of trip booking involves a trip brokerage or exchange. When a trip request is made by a user, either online or over the phone, the trip request may be sent to a secondary location for review by multiple providers. It may then be fulfilled by one of these providers.
Both trip brokerages and trip exchanges can be effectively applied when users are generally eligible for services from multiple providers in the network, when users require trips across multiple geographic areas (i.e., across jurisdictional lines), and/or where network agencies have set up systems for shared payments/costs across multiple funding sources.
For a trip brokerage, there is typically a central organization coordinating trip requests and trip assignments among multiple transportation providers in its network. This organization is generally aware of the capacity of each provider and is able decide to which provider it will assign the trip. For a trip exchange, there is typically no official central organization. Instead, one provider will receive the initial trip request and then “post” the request in a general location for review by other providers in the network. Any of the members of the network can accept this trip, and then schedule the trip on its own system; a reservation is then sent to the rider specifying which provider will handle the trip. See the Denver metro area spotlight project for an example of a One-Call/One-Click system with a trip exchange.
Though a trip brokerage/exchange is supported most seamlessly through software designed for that purpose, it can also be handled as a more manual process. For example, if the scale is small enough and the processes are well designed for all the providers, it could be possible to use collaboration tools (e.g., Google Sheets) to share trip requests and confirm reservations between multiple providers in real time.
Related resources from the NCMM Knowledge Center:
“This manual provides a reference for planning and designing a Transportation Management Coordination Center using intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and other technologies