By Paul Comfort, Esq., (c) Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
With my buddy Marlon Bates – Top Paratransit KPI Producer
Creating Paratransit Service Excellence
Marlon Bates served as Director of Mobility Services at the MTA in Baltimore, Maryland for the past year. With three ADA contractors (Transdev, First Transit and MV) along with non-ADA paratransit service through sedan/taxi services, the MTA provides between 8-10,000 trips every week day in the Baltimore area, making it one of the top five busiest paratransit services in the nation. It could be the top performing major paratransit service anywhere in America. Using Mobile Data Terminals’ (MDT) GPS enabled data, MTA Mobility closed out the month of August recording a whopping 95.49% On Time Performance (OTP) rate, an all-time record for a month at MTA while providing service in nation’s fifth most congested city. Additionally, the average P-AFR (preventable accident frequency rate) is about 1 accident per 100,000 miles, again one of the best across the country for an urban area. These two Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of OTP and P-AFR are generally considered the most important in determining the safety and reliability of paratransit services.
Paratransit service has become an essential element of public transit across North America. In the USA, it has largely been defined by criteria established under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) with regulations promulgated by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Under this law, public transit systems must provide comparable paratransit service for people with disabilities who cannot use the fixed-route transit system. Service is considered to be comparable based on the following criteria:
ADA paratransit services must equal fixed-route services in terms of service area and days and hours of service; 2) Fares cannot exceed twice the fixed-route passenger fare; 3) Reservation systems should allow for next-day service; and 4) Trip purpose restrictions and capacity constraints should be eliminated. http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/159985.aspx. In Baltimore, as in many cities across the country, service is door – to –door instead of only curb-to-curb as required under the ADA.
However, the cost of this mandated service continues to escalate. In many transit systems, the total per passenger cost to provide ADA service is now topping $45 per trip, well over 10X the cost to provide an individual fixed route bus trip. On average, paratransit makes up about 1-2% of system total ridership, but at least 9% of operating cost, according to a TCRB report; (http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/159985.aspx).
Making the scenario even more interesting, Paratransit customers have become some of the most vocal advocates of increasing public subsidy and support for transit services and often rely on them for life’s essential mobility. Across the nation, transit systems’ paratransit riders advisory committee meetings are often a lively mix of complaints about individual trip quality and more policy oriented discussions on parameters around providing this service, such as how far into a public building a driver can go to announce his presence for a pickup and “grandfathering” in ADA certified passengers in areas where fixed route service is being eliminated.
With Marlon Bates and Christian Kent, AGM of WMATA. Christian and I spent over 100 Monday evenings at Paratransit Riders Advisory Committee Meetings during my five year stint helping lead the service there in the DC region.
Trends in providing paratransit service now include TNCs (transportation networking companies) utilizing shared ride services such as Lyft to supplement service. The average cost to an agency of using these providers (as well as traditional taxi services) can often be about half the normal cost. Additionally, many transit systems are now adopting the use of Trip Broker software, which allows the reservationist to see the projected cost of a trip at booking and choose the provider based on that cost. This can eliminate expensive trips such as individual late night van trips from a traditional contract provider and it can help lower overall costs when used effectively. Additionally, my company Trapeze Group recently announced a joint agreement with Lyft that allows users of Trapeze PASS software to purchase a software “plug in” that can send paratransit trips directly to Lyft drivers in the service area – potentially saving big dollars and adding an additional service provider with all payments to drivers handled seamlessly behind the scenes by the software.
Other trends include lowering or eliminating the fare for ADA certified passengers to use fixed route bus/rail service (a much lower cost option) and increasing travel training for regular ADA users so they can adopt fixed route transit usage for their primary mode of mobility.
How did Marlon Bates help his service reach such high performance levels? Well for one thing, he built on the foundation left by his predecessor, Mr. Carl Parr, who served as Director of Mobility there just prior to Marlon. Carl has a long history with improving paratransit services across the nation for some of the major private contract providers through the use of better systems and technology. He states there are two principles he lives by in order to provide quality paratransit service:
- Give them the tools to succeed. Carl says, “Nothing bugs me more than a manager telling someone they have to do better when they haven’t provided them the best and proper tools/systems/automation to make it so.”
With Paratransit technology guru Carl Parr along with ADA expert Monica Simon
- Individual Accountability. “Breaking down each and every person’s job/role into something measurable. Create a matrix by which to measure performance, such as a daily or weekly scorecard. When possible, post the results, encouraging an internal instinct/competition for employees to outperform their peers.”
As for Marlon, his focus is on the people who provide the service. He says that the system’s high performance was directly the result of his staff’s professionalism, perseverance and teamwork. These attributes on the part of the behind the scenes reservationists, schedulers, dispatchers, the safety and maintenance teams and road supervisors helped make MTA’s paratransit service one of the nation’s safest, most efficient, most reliable and customer focused systems.
Marlon states, “We started our journey by… soliciting feedback from stakeholders at all levels (passengers, drivers, dispatchers, mechanics, etc…) to develop a plan that was not only doable but sustainable. We weren’t afraid to ask our providers (Transdev, First Transit and MV) for their input regarding best practices from around the nation.”
He continues, “We increased the number of subscription trips allowing for better use of the vehicles through grouping. We also made sure our reservations agents were effectively utilizing the trip booking software to more efficiently negotiate trip times”.
As a cost and procurement time cutting measure, the agency also recently purchased nearly 150 sedans replacing many of the traditional larger wheelchair lift equipped vans in their fleet. These are used for ambulatory passengers and are much more efficient to operate and maintain.
Innovative approaches to operating the nation’s paratransit services are key to keeping cost sustainable and ensuring our most vulnerable passengers get the very best service.