Mary uses a walker and has trouble getting to the bus stop. Leonard has a cognitive impairment and needs assistance while riding. Paratransit opens up the world to individuals with disabilities, providing demand-responsive transportation for people who can’t use fixed-route public transit services. Pair this with technology, and you make transportation even easier. Learn best practices and considerations for choosing a paratransit scheduling software provider.
Software-Enabled Paratransit Experience
Paratransit must support customers from all angles. Luckily, the right software has the power to respond to all levels of rider needs.
Many passengers rely on your service as their main mode of transportation, so they’ll need recurring rides to and from doctor’s appointments, day programs, and more. Some may have personal care attendants with them, and others need support for mobility devices of many types, including:
- Oxygen tanks
Even if riders need to use a lift but don’t use a mobility device, you must be equipped to help. Support all riders from start to finish, meeting their physical needs and riding routines with software that’s flexible enough to accommodate them.
Most paratransit agencies take bookings by phone, but you can go a step further with software to streamline the booking process. For starters, the best solutions include a fully accessible smartphone app that any rider can use anytime. But you should also look for robust communication tools, including:
- Automated calls
- Interactive voice response
- Push notifications
- Trip reminders
Make sure the system offers locations riders go to often, making the booking process that much faster.
You need to keep your vehicles moving to meet rider demands, and relying solely on cash slows things down—with riders counting bills and operators maintaining the farebox. Expedite payments and add flexibility by accepting alternative payment methods such as:
- Debit and credit cards
- In-app payments
- Monthly passes
The right software can support a variety of payments with minimal setup and support, maximizing efficiency.
Implementation and Training Support
Rolling out a new software platform can be easy with the right partner and solution in place. Implementation assistance and training support give you the confidence and knowledge to proceed successfully.
Quality Customer Service
Your system should work correctly to avoid any disruptions for riders, but customer service goes a long way when hiccups do occur. Choose a paratransit scheduling software provider with a proven track record of quality implementation support so you can avoid or reduce impacts on daily service.
Attention to Your Details
Your software provider needs to thoroughly understand your operating environment and current practices to set up your system properly. If a potential vendor isn’t willing to observe your operation and talk with your team face to face, they may not be an ideal long-term partner.
When you implement new paratransit software, it may mean making changes to rider communication. Such changes can make communication with riders easier, but they may need a little time to get acclimated. Select a paratransit scheduling software provider that will help riders adjust to new processes while minimizing disruption. Seek out a track record of success from a vendor who has helped other agencies make similar transitions and can also help communicate its value to the public.
Smooth Software Changeover
Change is hard in any professional setting because workers get used to a routine. When you introduce a new paratransit scheduling solution, remember this and help the team learn. Some people are visual and others are practical, so employ multiple learning methods to bring agency staff up to speed quickly on the new software. Continue along the way with on-the-job support until they get the hang of the new routine.
Pricing and ROI
The continuing increase in demand for paratransit service makes it hard to meet demand and growth projections. Transit systems are already reducing traditional services and deferring maintenance to finance demand-responsive paratransit, so how can you balance this?
Manage Costs and Provide Exceptional Service
You can’t pretend that cost doesn’t matter because it impacts your agency every day. But you can find a healthy middle ground. Start by defining key performance indicators that ensure your agency stays compliant. Additionally, look for a paratransit scheduling software provider that can customize your routing and dispatching algorithm for cost, quality of service, and compliance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is in place to make life easier for individuals with disabilities in various facets of life, and transit is no exception. Agency and software platforms must adhere to ADA and local guidelines, such as using a vehicle that’s wheelchair compatible and ensuring that your app is navigable. Your experience must be both accessible and equitable, so riding is just as easy for those with disabilities as it is for those without.
Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
VPAT is a Section 508 conformance report that demonstrates software compliance with accessibility requirements. This document or certification shows how a customer facing application such as mobile app or self-service portal complies with the requirements of the disabled community under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Why VPAT Matters
The most important thing about VPAT is that it speaks volumes. That is to say, the certification demonstrates that providers put end customers first. It’s also mandatory, particularly in the case of government agencies, which must make their technology accessible to people with disabilities. As a result, software providers that work with federal agencies also must provide a VPAT.
Ecolane has three clean VPATs. We’re a leading paratransit scheduling software provider with both agency- and customer-facing app solutions, making transit equitable and accessible to everyone.
Maintain Compliance with a Full Suite of Products
Software can work at both ends to ensure ADA compliance—from driver apps with routing information and real-time traffic updates to rider apps with booking information and real-time vehicle tracking. But the paratransit scheduling software provider you choose should do more, such as incorporating:
- Booking algorithms: The ADA requires complementary paratransit services for individuals that live within a ¾-mile boundary of a fixed route. Choose a software solution that uses algorithms to quickly precheck against geographic boundaries to ensure rider eligibility.
- Dispatch dashboards: Your agency must monitor operations and be able to plan effectively. Your chosen software should be backed by automation to track on-time status, monitor onboard time, notify dispatch, and reassign drivers via convenient dashboards.
Give your agency the power to not only adhere to ADA needs but also simplify transit all around.
Paratransit software that allows your agency to be flexible and nimble delivers the most value. Your software should allow for a variety of benefits to help your agency do more.
Ridership and Capacity Increase
Crowded buses can be a problem, but you have options to boost your capacity and accommodate disabled riders. Partner with transportation network companies (TNCs) and taxi services to expand service on demand when needed. As a result, your agency can:
- Complete more trips at a lower cost.
- Expand service areas with on-demand service.
As a bonus, working with TNCs provides an element of privacy, reducing the stigma of taking paratransit and fostering equity by allowing these riders to go from point A to point B just like everyone else.
Your paratransit scheduling software provider should make life just as easy for dispatchers as it does for operators and riders. The right software solution can put measures in place to:
- Allocate trips based on wait times, cost, rider needs, and agency goals.
- Maintain safety and security standards.
- Send updates to riders of the agency’s fleet and partner vehicles.
Your dispatchers keep things moving every day, so give them the tools to do it better.
Reporting and Optimization
So, how is your agency doing? By generating regular reports, you can get feedback and insights to improve operational efficiency. Choose a paratransit scheduling software provider that makes accessing your raw data easy, so you can generate comprehensive reports on demand. Robust reporting capabilities enable your agency to do the most important things:
To stay on top of change, your paratransit software should enable accurate reporting with tools that reveal inconsistent data inputs and help administrators resolve issues quickly. Regardless of the top contenders on your list, make sure they include standard industry reports and state-mandated reports.
Eliminate Paratransit Barriers with the Right Software
Paratransit riders rely on agencies such as yours as a primary mode of transportation, but their journeys often look a little different. The best thing you can do is make the experience as frictionless as possible, and paratransit software can help. By answering physical needs, providing quality customer service, and keeping in step with ADA requirements, software takes transit to new heights.
How do you determine the best paratransit scheduling software provider for your agency? Download our guide to choosing your transit software provider for tips and software features that answer unique transit needs.
About the Author
Read Ecolane's blog articles for perspective, opinion and information on transit and paratransit issues.