Many demand-response transportation (DRT) software platforms are labeled as off-the-shelf products. However, this “one size fits all” approach may not be compatible with your agency’s unique software specifications and system operating requirements. To address this issue, your agency could benefit significantly by considering the following helpful hints when pursuing new software or upgrading your current software. The process begins with releasing a Request for Proposal (RFP), or bid.
This is the typical way to find a solution to meet your software needs at an affordable price. The time you spend analyzing your agency’s needs before releasing an RFP is critical to ensuring you select a vendor and a product that is a good fit. Specifically, the RFP should provide potential vendors with a clear description of your agency’s requirements and goals. For example, the RFP should clearly define a scope of work that details your service area, vehicle fleet composition, organizational structure, and current service statistics. Providing a detailed, comprehensive, well-written RFP will yield a successful outcome.
As a DRT software provider with extensive experience responding to countless RFPs, Ecolane has created this infographic to guide you through drafting a quality DRT scheduling and dispatching software RFP. This guide can be applied to RFPs for other projects, as well.
Let’s examine a breakdown of each of these steps.
1. Establish needs and expectations:
Perhaps your system is a manual process and you are looking to automate. Or, you may have software already in place that you feel your agency has outgrown and it is not meeting your demands. Take the time to analyze and identify current challenges, future objectives, and the expected outcomes of the software solution.
2. Do your research:
- Similar agencies: Reach out to other transit agencies that are similar in size. It is important to investigate what is working for them with their software, as well as what is not. Where have they seen success? Where have they seen disappointment? You may want to reference the RFPs these agencies used when drafting your own.
- Talk to your state’s Department of Transportation (if you receive federal funding): Department of Transportations (DOTs) are exposed to many of the solutions that are available in the market and can point you towards one or more that may fit your needs. State DOTs may also provide guidance on how to apply for a state or federal grants in order to offset the costs of acquiring and implementing the software.
- Conferences: Attend state association and national conferences to identify what software solutions are available and make first-hand contact with the vendors that supply them. It is a great way to see demos, ask questions, and gather information before making a commitment.
- Release a Request for Information (RFI): If time allows, send out an RFI. This will not only let you learn more about the software solutions that are available in the marketplace, but also to gauge vendor interest.
3. Writing the RFP:
A realistic time frame to begin your due diligence in writing your RFP is at least 9 -12 months in advance of release. You can reference RFPs released from agencies of a similar size and ask your state DOT and transportation associations for RFP document samples. Whichever method you choose, make sure to provide clear instructions that focus on the following items:
- Agency-specific requirements: Disclose your agency’s needs in the RFP. Required data include, but are not limited to: firm ID, executive summary, maintenance information, and support plans.
- Technical requirements: Provide a detailed technology specification matrix, or requirements that will cover everything you will need as part of the project, such as: central systems that handle reservations, scheduling, dispatching, data management/conversion, mobile data terminals for vehicles (MDTs), incident reports, and real-time information for staff and riders. Most importantly, be sure to include post-sale customer support and maintenance plans.
- Required certifications: Check with your state DOT to determine what is necessary for the project’s funding source.
- Conduct a pre-bid meeting: A pre-bid meeting is a traditional way to allow vendors to learn about the RFP and ask questions. It also allows your agency to highlight the critical aspects of the RFP. Offering remote options for vendor participation will promote inclusivity, especially with some vendors that would otherwise incur extensive travel costs.
- Pricing: Don’t merely ask for a lump sum price quote. Break down the pricing into key aspects, such as licenses, services, software, add-ons, updates, hardware, and costs pertaining to maintenance/support plans. It is especially important to ask vendors if their annual licensing/maintenance and support plans are subject to cost changes over the course of the contract.
- Litigation: Do your homework! During the RFP development process, it is advised to inquire whether the software vendors had contracts aborted by an agency, have been sued, or have received cure notices. If any of these have applied, it could be a red flag, especially if it is a frequent or excessive event. This indicates a pattern. Request details about the liquidated damages from previous transit contracts, if applicable.
- Question and answer option: Most agencies offer a specific time frame for vendors to ask questions for you to answer. Agencies can choose to accept questions within a specific time frame and respond within that time frame, or they can choose to ask vendors to submit questions via e-mail and respond to the e-mails as they are received.
- Dates & time frames: Check that all dates are consistent throughout all documentation to help ensure there is no confusion for you or the vendors. Start your RFP process early and allow ample time for communication and questions between your agency and the vendors. Once you release the RFP, you should give vendors adequate time to respond, which is typically 2-3 months. Also, be sure to clearly indicate the terms of your contract (i.e., 5 years) in the RFP.
- Be open to other solutions: If you are open to alternative solutions that may be outside of the scope of your RFP, or have a unique requirement, allow vendors the opportunity to present an alternative, “outside the box” ideas and solutions that could remedy your current software challenges.
- Flexibility in vendor responses: Allow vendors to be flexible with their responses to give them the opportunity to present the best possible solutions for you. Be willing to accept promotional information, videos, testimonials, etc.
4. After the RFP release:
- Take time to review responses carefully: There are usually many small nuances and differences in the product and service offerings proposed by competing vendors. Taking the time to read the fine print when comparing proposed solutions can save you time in the end.
- Check the validity of a vendor’s response: Request references from the vendor and make sure to follow up with those references. If possible, schedule an onsite visit to see how the product works in a live environment.
- Addendums: Be diligent in allowing enough time for vendors to submit questions and for your agency to provide clear, full responses. The more detail in the RFP, the less likely vendors will submit extensive questions and/or requests for clarification.
- Project delivery timelines: Be cautious when vendors commit to overly ambitious implementation timelines. Review all the bases, including documentation that supports implementation schedule activities to ensure that vendor timelines can be achieved.
- In-person interviews: Plan to schedule in-person vendor interviews of 2-3 vendors in which the most competitive proposals were submitted. Vendors should be allotted enough time (i.e., 2 hours) to provide a demonstration of their proposed solution and answer any questions that your selection committee may have.
- Request a Best and Final Offer (BAFO): If your agency is having difficulty deciding which of the proposals will be the best fit, a BAFO is a great way to see which vendor really wants your business. BAFOs give agencies an opportunity to ask clarifying questions and refine what you want the vendor to reconsider in terms of critical elements of the proposal, such as vendor pricing, licensing, software options and timelines.
- After Selection: Once you’ve chosen the product and vendor to best meet your agency’s needs, make sure that your senior executives champion the project and thoroughly involve the staff who will be working with the product on a day to day basis. This will help to make sure your project is successful and runs smoothly.
Your RFP sets the stage for your DRT software solution and for how operationally efficient your agency will run. Please reach out to us today to learn more about Ecolane’s DRT software solutions and how we could be the solution to your software challenges!
About the Author
Read Ecolane's blog articles for perspective, opinion and information on transit and paratransit issues.