A Look at the Benefits of a Statewide Software Package with Toby Fauver, Former Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation in Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania completed a statewide transit software package implementation with Ecolane in 2018. In doing so, they have seen a decrease in customer complaints as high as 85 percent, reduced call center wait times by more than 25 percent, and average on-time performance consistently above 90 percent. We had a chance to speak to Toby Fauver, Former Deputy Secretary of The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to talk about the procurement and implementation process.
Q: What led to the pursuit of a statewide solution?
A: In Pennsylvania, we had about 70 different providers varying from paratransit and shared rides to demand-response, dial-a-ride, NEMT, and others. They were disjointed and uncoordinated. It was a struggle to do cross-county trips because one agency might have particular software and another might have the same software, but a different version of the software, so neither could coordinate rides effectively.
Consequently, we decided to do a statewide package because it would allow us to coordinate data sharing, communication, reporting, and integrity of the data. With a statewide purchase, we were able to push all our systems onto the same platform. That helped tremendously with many of the problems we were facing.
Q: How did funding play a role?
A: Funding sources were not a problem. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) had money to do procurement, including a statewide procurement. We were able to leverage discretionary federal dollars more than we were able to in the past because we were making a purchase on the statewide level with statewide coordination. In the application, for example, we were only one of 50 instead of one of thousands. We were able to get 25 percent paid for with discretionary dollars and another 25 percent paid for with formula dollars.
Q: What were the challenges that the transit agencies were facing that led them to pursue a statewide RFP? Are these challenges still relevant to what agencies experience now?
A: In Pennsylvania, we have a lottery program that will pay 85 percent of the fare for senior citizens, but you had to calculate when they become a senior citizen under the law. They turn 65 on a particular day, but we had vendors that passed the benefit to people the year or the month they turned 65 instead. Even though you put data into the data dictionary and provide direction, because you’re working with different vendors, each vendor interpreted the data differently and applied the law differently. Individual transit systems had to pay money back to the state because they weren’t eligible for the funding sources.
Agencies weren't able to pull good data, track drivers, or enforce customer service standards. Reporting was very manual. It cost a lot of time, money and labor hours. Agencies would call help desks and often could not reach someone on the phone for long periods of time. The system was operating on an individual server instead of a cloud, so they needed to have proper hardware, and they needed backups. They were at risk for software crashes as well as hardware crashes.
Smaller agencies were also struggling to keep up with maintenance costs. Once they owned a license, they had to pay for upgrades and maintenance. Once the contract ended, they would then have to negotiate new maintenance fees,which they often could not afford. PennDOT agreed to pay maintenance fees, which were negotiated, and Pennsylvania saved more than a half million dollars per year as a result.
“Individual transit systems had to pay money back to the state because they weren’t eligible for the funding sources.”
Q: How did PennDOT go about putting together a statewide RFP? What level in the industry were the players involved in the decision to create a statewide RFP?
A: We hired some IT consultants to sit down and develop a requirements analysis. They spent time with our transit systems throughout the state. We also developed a statewide committee to make sure everyone's needs, to the best of our ability, were accommodated. We needed simple functionality for the smallest systems and more complex functionality for bigger systems. Each system had the same level of support.
We did not need legislative support. The governor’s office entrusted PennDOT to do the right thing for the state, and we spent time with local business leaders to make sure they were part of the process. The board also consisted of people from the industry, and it was their job to do the ranking and scoring for the package.
Q: Were all the agencies in agreement with putting together a statewide RFP? If not, how did you go about convincing agencies that it was in their best interest?
A: They were not all on the same page at first. A lot of agencies were afraid of state takeover. They felt choice was being taken away. Remember, all agencies feel that they are unique and that their riders are unique. They think they alone can customize service, vehicles, receipts, and technology to meet the needs of their customers.
We didn't want a lot of customization to be part of the package because we wanted things to be consistent in terms of service and delivery. We did, however, want nuances to be accommodated, and we wanted flexibility in the package to do that. We built support with agencies partially through dialogue and understanding the problems the agencies were facing. Not everyone agreed on how to solve the problems, but we made sure the RFP at the end, could point to solutions by the standards and requirements of the package.
Q: Why did you pursue a statewide solution at the time you did? Why not earlier or later?
A: It was the ideal time. There was a strong push from the legislators and the governor for efficiency in transportation. Not only did we want to get a good package, but by getting a good purchase value and saving money, we were able to accomplish efficiency goals in terms of improving productivity of our transit systems. This was proven by selecting Ecolane.
Q: Do you think that other states face these challenges?
A: States struggle with getting the most out of the money they invest. The ones that invest in technology can benefit from this because they'll get buying power and a lot more information back. We've gotten a lot more information than we've ever had before -- audit records, tracking customer complaints, and other data we can use to respond to challenges that arise. We can see all information on a statewide level, which was never possible in the past.
Q: Why did you choose Ecolane as opposed to other vendors?
A: We were familiar with a lot of other vendors, and we did inventories across the state in terms of software packages and what versions were being used. We developed our requirements analysis, and we found a big gap between industry software packages. We weren't sure anyone could meet these requirements. Vendors were shortlisted, and we had a selection committee that interviewed the vendors.
Ecolane is the only cloud-based solution that was built specifically that way from the beginning. Many vendors were building patches on top of legacy systems, but only had legacy system functionality. Ecolane was built for the web. This was revolutionary to us.
Secondly, Ecolane was the only software that offered automated, on-demand scheduling in real time. This was a huge game-changer. It gave us an opportunity to do real-time trip scheduling as opposed to everyone calling in the day before and people working late into the evening. It gave us a better handle on resourcing; some of the managers were working 12-hour days. Now, they work normal eight-hour days, which reduced their stress and made them much happier in their jobs.
Q: Ecolane helped standardize transportation, reporting and data collection. Were their concerns about standardization? How did Ecolane assist with overcoming these challenges?
A: It used to be that every other software package had standard reports, but nowhere would they meet what you needed for the funding sources. Everything is recorded in the system. If people make changes, that’s recorded. The data is able to be audited. Reporting meets the requirements of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and other government agencies. Ecolane calculated live miles and live hours, and it was apparent the calculations were correct. It was no longer necessary to do tedious calculations and recalculate to verify the accuracy of the data.
We were really happy that with Ecolane, you pay your initial license fee and then just your annual maintenance fee. Every time Ecolane rolls out another update, every agency gets it free of charge automatically. Every agency is operating on the same version, and there is no additional licensing fee, which was a revolutionary way of providing for customers.
Q: Tell me about the implementation process.
A: It was a big undertaking. We had four systems that were pilots. We worked with them to remove any kinks and ensure that the software was able to meet Pennsylvania State requirements. We used it as an opportunity to standardize timing of deployment. Although it was a long process, it was smooth. Once systems got online and agencies started talking about efficiency gains, others were eager to start using Ecolane. For a smooth implementation, it’s important to clear communication with local officials so they know what to expect.
Q: What benefits did you experience after implementation? How long did it take you to experience those benefits?
A: Having access to the data on a statewide level was a tremendous benefit. We had that almost instantly. Over time, some systems became power users of Ecolane in that they understood how Ecolane works and set up the parameters to use resources right and modify labor contracts. If at one point they were doing one ride per hour, they were able to get to 2.7 rides per hour and even exceed three. This translated into financial stability without having to do fare increases. We also gained shared databases across county lines, regional coordination of trips, and consolidation of counties under one or two systems instead of 10 separate systems.
“Every agency is operating on the same version and there is no additional licensing fee, which was a revolutionary way of providing for customers.”
Q: Ecolane allows the users to share their data with other agencies that are working together if they so choose. How does this bring positive experience across lines of agencies that originally kept their data separate? How can agencies use this process to their advantage?
A: With individual agencies, they can see each other's trips and help each other out, especially for longer distance trips. They were able to access information from third parties in order to schedule trips on their behalf. Ecolane opened up opportunities for medical doctors and facilities to schedule trips for people so that those people didn't potentially miss their appointments. They were also able to do it on site, so no phone call was needed.
Q: Did it uncover any underlying problems that you were not aware of and were now able to fix?
A: Oftentimes, drivers would park in the middle of the day and not do their job. You can address that quickly with Ecolane. The biggest issue has been driver shortages, but now you can track the driver and hold them accountable. We can ensure fares were being collected and people are picked up and dropped off on time.
Q: What else has been achieved?
A: There's an Ecolane users group in Pennsylvania, and managers get together to provide feedback to Ecolane and to coordinate on report development. It's also given them an opportunity to learn from each other's experiences and teach each other how to use the Ecolane system better. That was a surprising, unintended consequence.
Q: Would you recommend a statewide solution to every state?
A: Any state that has statewide paratransit programs is doing itself a disservice without having a statewide software solution. They are not maximizing efficiency and maximizing dollars. They aren’t getting the benefits they could be otherwise.
Q: Why would you recommend Ecolane as the vendor?
A: Ecolane employees care about transportation, paratransit, and the end riders. Ecolane is responsive to customer needs, and they are always trying to improve product offerings to make sure the needs are being served. With other systems, agencies can struggle to get service. The companies were more interested in getting the sales than they were with meeting customer needs.
Q: What else can you tell me about your experience with a statewide solution and with Ecolane that I didn’t think to ask?
A: The decision to migrate to a single software package for the state is a tough one. There will always be individual preferences, but if you're implementing a statewide solution, the benefits and gains will be there. As long as the software meets your current and future needs and you can communicate that to the agencies on the front end in order to get buy-in, the journey will be worth it, and everyone involved will reap the benefits of success.
To learn more about what Ecolane can do for your state, request a comprehensive demo today.
About the Author
Read Ecolane's blog articles for perspective, opinion and information on transit and paratransit issues.