Webinar takeaways - Automating data management for ADA paratransit eligibility

Highlights from “Automating ADA Paratransit Eligibility”, Spare’s webinar on the challenges facing eligibility management and how Spare’s new product, Spare Engage, addresses them.


Tanya CastleWednesday, December 9, 2020

Managing paratransit eligibility is hard. It’s not as simple as assessing a person’s application and checking off a box that says ‘yes or no’.

“We get hundreds of applications per month. We need to make sure that every determination is made within 21 days. This is no easy task,” said Daniel Whitehouse, SMART Detroit manager for Connector Services during Spare’s webinar “Automating data management for ADA paratransit eligibility”. Joining him were Spare’s Josh Andrews and Corey Reid, as well as Bill Schwartz, a transit planning consultant with Nelson/Nygaard who specializes in paratransit.

What is paratransit?

In the United States, paratransit is governed by the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA). This gives people with mobility issues the right to fair and equivalent transit. There are a multitude of reasons why a rider might need paratransit services. They might have mobility or cognitive issues and require assistance to use transit or maybe they are unable to walk to a fixed-route stop under certain circumstances.

Access to specialized services is determined on a case-by-case basis. It can be:

  • Unconditional - the rider will likely need it in perpetuity and cannot use the wider fixed-route network at all.
  • Conditional  – the rider can sometimes use the fixed-route network but not, say when the weather is bad (think a senior who can’t walk the 100 meters down an icy sidewalk to her bus stop).
  • Temporary - for those who maybe sustained an injury but can eventually return to using the regular bus once healed.

Transit agencies need to find ways to manage all these different cases and group all these riders based on their eligibility profile, explains Bill.

Paratransit eligibility: how it’s done today

In order to assess who is eligible for paratransit and for which services under the paratransit umbrella, transit agencies use a combination of questionnaires, in-person assessments and medical evaluations, Daniel says.

Often, agencies will manually handle all the paperwork created by the eligibility process. This means dealing with printed forms that get filled out by hand and lots of data entry. Following each rider’s status is also cumbersome with little automation to manage conditional grouping.

Spare Engage: streamlining the eligibility process

“Our customers told us they needed a better solution to manage paratransit customer relationships, so we built it,” Josh, Spare’s COO, shared.

Using direct feedback from Spare’s transit agency partners around the world, our team created Spare Engage, a customer relationship management tool specifically for on-demand transit services like paratransit.

Basically, it takes all the manual processes Daniel outlined and digitizes them. Customizable eligibility forms can be created and filled out directly online by transit agencies and the data collected and automatically imputed into Spare Engage. Or forms can be filled out by hand and scanned into Spare Engage, which uses optical character recognition (OCR) to convert handwriting into valuable data in seconds.

Each rider or potential rider has a profile in Spare Engage and all information about their case is centralized under their profile. Essentially Spare Engage creates a ‘single source of truth’ that can be maintained and updated in real-time by booking agents, drivers and riders.

That’s important because incorrect data can have serious consequences for transit agencies and their riders. Without correct information, such as a customer’s phone number, booking agents and drivers can’t reach riders, a vehicle that doesn’t meet the rider’s needs may show up, or there could be significant delays. Collecting and maintaining current and accurate data is paramount for delivering a quality paratransit service, Bill underscores.

Managing the complexities of conditional eligibility

Conditional eligibility is crucial for paratransit to assess and deliver properly, because it directly impacts costs and rider experiences, says Bills. Therefore, being able to manage conditional eligibility and the characteristics of each rider is paramount to transit agencies.

Once a rider’s eligibility status is determined during the application and assessment process, Spare Engage can then put riders into characteristic-based groups, and trips with the needed vehicles can be booked accordingly. These groups include all the types of services they are eligible for (door-to-door, accessible van, daytime service, etc). When their status expires, they are removed from the group and prevented from booking these services unless it is renewed.

Automating communications

Because effective and consistent communication is key to providing riders a seamless and safe experience, Spare enables transit agencies to manage and digitize a host of notifications and communications around an application’s status, upcoming eligibility expiration or whether a rider is eligible for a certain service on a specific day.

Communications can be sent via text message, email, or direct mail and tied to customizable trigger events based on how a transit agency prefers or is required to provide certain information. This also makes Spare Engage a communications hub, enabling administrators to keep their riders in the loop with all the rider data at their fingertips.

Enabling intercity eligibility across transit agencies

Paratransit riders aren’t bound to one city and may face challenges when they travel and need to rely on transit outside of their hometowns or the service area of their local transit agency.

“In Metro Detroit, riders in my service area can have up to five different ADA certifications and right now the process is being done manually where the application is housed at each different transit authority,” Daniel says.

Managing all of these different certifications isn’t easy for the rider or the transit agencies. Riders have to remember when and with whom to make updates to their profile, maybe a new address, new phone number or new information about their condition. It’s cumbersome and time-consuming and often can be forgotten. Life is busy.

With a shareable and centralized database, these processes aren’t only digitized and automated but also unified so that one application can be processed by multiple transit agencies. Gone are the days of riders having to contact multiple agencies and agencies having to be on the phone with each other.


Timestamps:

00:00 Introductions

00:58 What is paratransit eligibility?

10:35 How can the eligibility management process be streamlined?

13:40 Why is data management important for transit agencies?

15:40 What are the consequences if data is not current and accurate?

18:40 Which benefits does a “single source of truth” provide for transit agencies?

20:35 How can transit agencies manage intercity eligibility?

26:08 How can transit agencies manage conditional eligibility?

32:00 How does Spare innovate paratransit eligibility management?

35:00 Live demo of Spare Engage

51:05 Audience Q&A