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Thoughts on Transit

The Future of Paratransit

by Ecolane / July 22, 2015

The unknown can be both frightening and exciting.  An industry like paratransit, that can skirt the line between technology and transportation looks at the future as a double-edged sword.  On one hand, the future will bring both technological and vehicle efficiencies and due to the onslaught of baby-boomers, a burgeoning clientele.  On the other hand, new technology brings new challenges and stresses that haven’t been imagined yet.

The future of paratransit calls for the innovative use of the technologies that mainstream industries are providing. Within a web framework, services can instantly take advantage of breakthrough services such as those delivered by Google Maps. The number of personal devices connected to the internet continue to increase every day and the ability of individuals to schedule trips, monitor driver progress, and register real time customer feedback themselves will also continue to grow. Tracking and real-time reporting leads to service improvement and are limited only by the imagination of people working in the industry and building such functionality.

Greater accountability, where trips are being provided, will translate into additional gains in productivity and paratransit agencies embracing the technology are well positioned to benefit. New applications are being added daily to the Google Earth catalog through their Keyhole Markup Language (KML). The numbers of these applications and their functionality will continue to increase in the next five years as new and improved offerings are rolled out.

Toward the end of the five-year horizon, the paratransit industry may even see some use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) integrated into their services. Companies like Numenta, which is building a brain-like computing paradigm - with neural networks and cellular automata, will attempt to roll out new flavors of AI never seen before. This technology may enable computers to tackle problems that come more easily to humans including recognizing faces or seeing patterns in music.

Because computers are so much faster than humans when it comes to computation, we can expect new frontiers to be broken - enabling us to solve the problems that were unreachable before. (source: ReadWriteWeb.com)

Live video of conditions both inside and outside the vehicle – a feature especially beneficial in cold weather climates provides obvious benefits to managing transit operations. Driverless vehicles, already a technology seen on public roads today, are fully controlled by computers. Human personal care assistants would ride these vehicles to help with the loading and unloading of customers. All of these technologies exist today in various forms and it’s just a matter of time before they begin to come together for paratransit.

However, the paratransit industry is facing challenging times ahead.

The current decline in productivity cannot be sustained without a necessary correction leading to an increase in the ridership. The cost level for providing paratransit services puts public transit at great risk. According to data from APTA (apta.com) which referenced the years between 1990 and 2005, the operational costs associated with providing paratransit services increased from 3.3% to 9.3% of the total operating costs of public transit. This trend will likely continue to increase.

As tomorrow becomes today and the present is what used to be the future, many organizations in the paratransit industry are working to embrace new technologies as the foundation for the industry’s growth.  As the future presents challenges, it’s up to the industry to keep pace and move forward.

Tags: Transit Trends Paratransit

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