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Dispatchers: The Unsung Heroes of Paratransit and Microtransit Operations

The high-stakes world of transit dispatch teams is a constant game of give-and-take and decisions made on the fly directly affect the microtransit and ADA paratransit services riders receive. Here’s how Spare is building tools that give dispatchers superpowers to make their day-to-day less stressful and more efficient.

Cameron Stone

When we board a bus, tram, subway, or paratransit shuttle, our immediate focus is often on the vehicle and the driver who navigates it.

Yet, behind the scenes, an intricate network of professionals work tirelessly to ensure that our commute–whether using a fixed route, on-demand or a combination of both–is smooth, timely, and safe. Among these are the unsung heroes of public transit: dispatchers. They labor in the shadows, making critical decisions that directly affect the efficiency and quality of service paratransit and microtransit riders receive. 

From manually reassigning trips due to vehicle breakdowns to maintaining paratransit schedules that are in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), their role is indispensable to the daily functioning of transit agencies. In this blog, we aim to shed light on the complex, high-stakes world of transit operation teams and how innovative technology, like Spare Platform, is not only helping to make their day-to-day a little easier, but are setting new standards in the paratransit and microtransit industry.

A different framework: From reactivity to proactivity

At Spare, we often think about building the Spare platform to be operations-first: meaning, it’s designed to help dispatchers react as effectively as possible – aka, respond to day-of scenarios.

The proactive vs reactive framework is what we've used to build tools that ultimately help transit management and dispatch teams problem-solve and make swift and often high-stake decisions.

At a high-level:

  1. A reactive approach focuses on addressing challenges as they arise.
  2. A proactive approach involves anticipating issues and planning ahead to manage them.

For long-term success, a balanced strategy that incorporates both is best.

1. React & respond: Addressing operational challenges as they arise

Modern dispatching solutions give dispatchers the context and insights they need to make real-time routing and scheduling decisions, pivot their plans in the event of issues or traffic delays, and respond precisely to customer questions.

When combined into a single modern reservations, scheduling and dispatch platform, the output is an operations-first technology, layered on top of an advanced routing engine that unlike legacy platforms that use batch scheduling methods, instantly schedules trip requests and maximizes fleet productivity in real-time.

Meaning, it continuously optimizes pickups, drop-offs, and routing while dynamically updating riders, drivers, administrators, and dispatchers with real-time information. So whether it’s a 1 or 100+ vehicle service, passengers will always be automatically assigned to the best suited vehicle–and group passengers headed in the same direction–into highly efficient shared (pooled) rides.

With Spare, transit management and dispatch teams can be confident knowing that multiple seniors leaving a medical appointment from the same building will be grouped into the same vehicle, unless there’s an explicit reason for them not to!

So modern on-demand transit solutions are productive. But what does it mean to be an operations-first platform?

Let’s take a look.

Spare platform gives dispatch teams full visibility on service health.

View live map

Spare's Live Map empowers dispatchers to view their paratransit and microtransit operation in real time. Whether it’s vehicle movement using automatic vehicle location, or staying updated on vehicle lateness, dispatch teams have a ‘bird eye view’ of the transit system at all times.

Spare platform optimizes in real-time, but not at the expense of manual control.

Every day is different when it comes to running public transit–unplanned scenarios happen. Spare empowers dispatchers with a fine balance of real-time optimization (aka letting our routing engine do its thing), and manual control as the day unfolds.

Manually override the system

Spare Engine is constantly helping you fill extra capacity and create more efficient manifests. But sometimes, dispatchers may need it to take a rest and manually override the system due to emergencies or local knowledge that only they have.

It is in those critical moments when dispatchers need to tap into their superpowers the most. A number of tools available in Spare platform increases manual control of the manifest, including:

  • The Override Flexibility feature lets dispatchers manage capacity by seeing exactly which trips are affected and making an override decision accordingly. Overriding a trip's flexibility is a big choice—now, make it an informed one.
Manual Override: All the insights you need to make an override decision.
  • Lock to Duty gives dispatchers the ability to manually lock a request (or two) to a specific duty (also known as vehicle), informing Spare Engine to leave it be. A use case for this would be ensuring two passengers share the same ride for accessibility or efficiency reasons.
  • Need to find room for a stranded rider? Unmatched Requests allows dispatchers to remove a trip from a driver’s manifest in order to make room for that emergency trip they’re trying to lock to that vehicle. When used in conjunction with Pause Optimization, dispatchers get more manual control of the manifest!
  • Sometimes, dispatchers simply need to take a breather to deal with a stressful situation. Using Pause Optimization, dispatchers can pause Spare's routing and optimization engine to ensure that no trips are automatically added or taken away while dispatch teams work to resolve the situation at hand. And once that's done, simply press play to get the show back on the road!

Communicate with drivers

Driver communication is vital for dispatch teams, especially if they just so happen to be in the middle of solving a sticky situation.

When dispatchers need to get a hold of a driver, Spare's Live Messages is your go to! Choose from a variety of canned messages used in common situations and chat with drivers directly, alerting them when it's safe to respond.

Driver & Dispatch Communications: Send regular or canned messages and broadcast messages to drivers on important service information.

Automatically re-match broken down vehicles

A lot can happen out on the road, and unfortunately that can include a vehicle breaking down. If there are customers on the vehicle, this can turn a situation from bad to worse very quickly! Fortunately, Spare’s Vehicle Breakdown Wizard will automatically re-match in-progress trips to other vehicles, automatically setting the pickup location nearby to where the vehicle broke down. A tricky situation can be solved in a matter of a few clicks!

2. Get proactive: Anticipating issues and planning ahead to manage them

Spare platform helps dispatchers zero-in on areas of their operations that need special attention.

Are there un-matched trip requests or late drivers that’s affecting OTP?

For paratransit operations, are there pre-scheduled trip requests that haven’t yet been matched to a driver?

Every metric important to your operation is automatically updated every 10 seconds and can be summarized, viewed and actioned on in this tabular format.

Spot every issue before it becomes a problem

Vital to the ability to remain proactive is to view where the problems are at a glance. Spare’s Watchlist drills down to only show trips that are having a hard time finding a spot or are running late, allowing dispatchers to spot problem areas quickly before they become a full-blown problem and fix the issues directly from this screen.

The Watchlist shows unmatched and late trips that are coming up soon

Drill down on daily operations

Using Live Requests, dispatchers can keep a close eye on the current day’s operations and drill into challenges before they occur, like a driver who is running late.

Our Live Requests module gives dispatchers an overview of current aggregated on-time performance (OTP) for the day, including completed and predicted OTP and identifies trends in OTP by breaking down by the hour, driver, service or fleet.

Live Requests: More insights, visibility and control at all times so that dispatcher teams can action immediately with quick filters based on your selection.

Dispatchers can investigate future and previous days to understand where to add capacity in order to create more optimal duties. To further understand "what-if" scenarios, dispatchers can leverage Optimization Insights to replay any day's routing optimization using historical data.

Stay tuned for more superpowers

We know dispatch teams have a lot going on throughout the day. Regardless of the size and scale of your ADA paratransit or microtransit operation, we’ve been in your shoes.

These are the many tools we're building for your operational toolkit to alleviate frustrating moments, allow dispatchers to respond more effectively to urgent scenarios, and ultimately, begin to carve out space to get more proactive. These features are really only the tip of the iceberg – stay tuned for even more superpowers!

If all of these tools for dispatchers are keeping you on the edge of your seat, then we can’t wait to show you even more tools we’re building each week to improve the user experience for dispatchers and more. Head over to our Product Roadmap to view the full list or sign up for our newsletter to get product updates straight to your inbox.