The demand for paratransit services in the year 2020 is forecast to be significantly higher than it is today with estimates pushing operating costs as high as $4.4 billion by that year. Fueling the huge growth is the baby boomer generation and, as a result, the industry needs to continually explore ways of doing things more effectively and to utilize existing resources as efficiently as possible.
The continuing growth of web technologies and its associated usage have represented one of the most important and quickly growing resources to the paratransit industry. Scheduling, route planning, operational monitoring and communications can all be done within a single web-based platform, accessible from any location with Internet services.
The increasing computing possibilities are already being utilized by the first completely automated scheduling and dispatching systems. In these systems, the computer calculates millions of possibilities in a fraction of a second in order to choose the best transportation solution available. The productivity gains from these systems were unimaginable and unattainable just a short time ago. Continuing improvements reduces the need for human intervention in scheduling and dispatching and often leads to better quality of service and predictability. Dial-a-ride services might boom in the near future providing more available services for the general public.
Nearly 100% automation of daily dispatching and scheduling functions will ultimately result in increased productivity on the street, enabling new application areas for the services traditionally reserved only for special needs. As an example, these services might utilize volunteer drivers and extend to providing hybrid public transit/carpool services. A demand responsive transportation capability can take advantage of both carpoolers and professional drivers to provide service on the street. We are already seeing this.
Five years may feel like a long time but in planning terms it is relatively short. The industry needs to begin to take the steps today in order to meet the challenges of tomorrow. While some of the predictions for what’s coming may be dire, the future in computing gains provides us with at least one glimmer of genuine hope; the transportation industry will continue to make strides in productivity and overall system improvement because of technology.