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Interview with Waccamaw RTA/Coast RTA Staff: Manual Process is an Impediment to Growth

by Ecolane / June 12, 2020

Our lives everyday become more and more automated as we let technology into our lives. We can ask Siri to turn on our alarms for us or remind us to add items to our to do list. We can program our oven to turn on with voice control and turn up the volume with gesture control in cars. So why should scheduling and dispatching transportation software be so manual?

The Waccamaw Regional Transportation Authority, also known as, Coast RTA, felt the same way. Coast RTA is located near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, serves two counties, and operates 35 vehicles. Coast RTA also provides fixed-route bus operations, paratransit services and other contracted services. The agency averages approximately 1700 trips per month pre-Covid.

Coast RTA General Manager and CEO Brian Piascik and Chief Experience Officer Ericka Hill had this to say about their transition to Ecolane scheduling software, “Ultimately, we determined Ecolane was the best fit for our future growth,” said Piascik.

“In terms of statistics, we’ve made dramatic improvements in efficiency.  For example, we went from .84 rides per hour (RPH) to 1.41 RPH.  We also cut our service hours almost in half, which was terrific,” explained Piascik.

When asked why they switched from their previous legacy software to Ecolane, Hill commented that, “We wanted to find technology that made the jobs of our schedulers our dispatchers and our drivers easier.  During the procurement process, we included members of our staff to look at the technology because ultimately, they would be the ones using it.  Ecolane was best able to demonstrate ease of use compared to other providers.”

Coast RTA also wanted to limit the amount of manual work involved for their employees.

“We needed a system that we could trust so the schedulers, dispatchers and drivers could do their jobs without additional legwork involved.  Ecolane’s automated system helped us resolve that issue,” commented Piascik.

Ecolane staff is always ready to help resolve issues for our customers and find creative solutions. Of course, there are challenges that come from any type of transition, and switching software providers is no exception. Many agencies fall back on previous habits when they are unfamiliar with the automatic process. Once they understand the process then they are able to let go and let the software do the work.

The challenges included, “Prior to Ecolane, drivers would have 5-10 sheets of paper at the start of their shift and they would take it upon themselves [to] re-route schedules if they saw something they believed didn’t seem right.  We had to introduce them to the Mobile Data Terminals (MDT)s, and instill trust in the MDTs, even if they thought they knew a better route.  We also had to work with the office staff so they could get to the point of just trusting the system” remarked Hill.

 “I like things simple and easy, in turn, so does our staff.  With our previous software, there was too much of a manual process and our staff had to spend a lot of time thinking about how they were going to coordinate routes and clusters.  That was becoming an impediment to growth,” continued Hill.

It takes time to build rapport with staff and develop trust to achieve the desired results. The results and the savings in efficiency paid off for the agency in the end.

“We saw a large improvement from staff and bus operators since day one, which is something we’re really happy with.  It’s not 100% yet, but it’s drastically better than when we started training.  There is a solid level of trust in the system now,” said Hill. 

In terms of trips and revenue hours, here is what Piascik had to say, “In fact, we’ve done 3,000 more trips ending March 2020 than we did ending March 2019—17,000 trips as opposed to 14,000.  We did see a reduction in revenue hours – 12,200 revenue hours as opposed to 17,900 revenue hours – that is to say transporting more people with the same or even fewer resources. It’s the name of the game when you are using public dollars!” 

It’s not always just about the numbers. It’s also about the relationship transit agencies have with their customers. Hill remarked, “The ridership has increased because the turnaround time is greater now than what it has been in the past.  Customers now feel the freedom and confidence to book as many trips as they want to rather than trips they need to book.  Therefore, we’re getting many more trips booked than we were before.”

It is important to choose a software provider that is also a partner for agencies.

“Ecolane does make us feel special in terms of being a partner.  We feel fully supported and we have regular communication with Ecolane.  We appreciate the personal relationship with Ecolane and its employees. We appreciate the resources Ecolane makes available to our staff and the product development to help improve our operational efficiency,” mentioned Hill.

When asked if Coast RTA would recommend Ecolane, Piascik stated: “I think the proof is in the pudding, honestly.  We implemented Ecolane and saw 100% improvement in our system.  I like the scalability – the fact that Ecolane can be tailored to be the perfect fit for small and large agencies alike and agencies of any size in between.  It’s reasonably priced in terms of proportion to our budget and our operational needs and that enables us to see a maximum return on investment.”

For more information on Coast RTA, please visit their website at http://coastrta.com/.

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Ecolane is created for transit people by transit people, in order to suit the unique needs of our customers.  Serving as a catalyst at the intersection between demand-response and on-demand transportation, Ecolane software works by automatically adapting to changes in schedules and conditions as they are happening in real-time on the day of service. For more than 18 years, Ecolane has proudly served our partners and their communities while simultaneously expanding reach.  With more than 200 partners across the globe, Ecolane has proven to be the provider of choice for the future of the transit industry. For more information on how Ecolane can help your paratransit or on-demand transportation agency grow in ridership and increase operational efficiency, visit us at www.ecolane.com.

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