Replacing manual processes, and outdated technology with a modern paratransit platform while meeting evolving ADA requirements.
By the numbers
- Number of Boardings (Month One)
- Average # Monthly Trips per Rider
- On-time performance (Month One)
- Daily Maximum Active Vehicles
Austin, Texas is famed for its vibrant music scene and spirit of innovation, consistently pushing for both cultural and social advancement. Of Austin’s population of over a million inhabitants, roughly 10% have a disability. While Austin's bus and rail systems are 100% accessible, not every person with a disability can utilize these services all the time. That's where Austin’s ADA paratransit service, CapMetro Access, steps in, providing transportation for those who, due to specific conditions or disabilities, cannot access the regular bus or rail system.
Access is a crucial element of Austin’s public transportation. The program serves as a lifeline for those with disabilities, offering transport to essential services, friends, and family, allowing for these individuals to gain independence and agency throughout each trip. Access operates almost 24/7 throughout the year, mirroring the main transit services and ensuring that whenever a bus is in operation, the ADA paratransit service is also available. Eligibility for the program is based on specific federal requirements, ensuring it provides services to the people who need them most.
- Evolution of ADA interpretations: Despite its critical role, ADA paratransit is not without its challenges. The ADA has been in place for decades, and while the laws remain constant, interpretations have steadily evolved. The recent evolution of technology has introduced both opportunities and constraints in the quest to improve services for people with disabilities.
- Predominantly manual dispatching, scheduling, and routing: Without real-time optimization, dispatchers were burdened with identifying and then manually reassigning trips to find suitable slots in the event of road issues. This manual system often led to inefficiencies, as trips weren't always identified quickly enough and subsequently not allocated to the most effective slots.
- An existing system that had been in place for more than 20 years with minimal modernization: Recognizing that the existing system that had been in place for over 20 years was no longer meeting their needs, Chad Ballentine, CapMetro’s VP of Demand Response and Innovative Mobility, decided it was time for a change.
A thorough competitive procurement process was initiated to find the best software to replace the legacy paratransit system.
“We ended up selecting Spare out of the group of all of the successful bidders because of the algorithms, the way it was a really intuitive and accessible interface, the ease of implementation and the security of the back end of the system.”
CapMetro wanted a cloud-based solution to take advantage of regular feature updates. In the past, Access staff had to heavily modify the old system and use workarounds to fit their needs. However, during system upgrades, sometimes configurations were lost, forcing them to reapply their customizations. With Spare, software updates are frequent and all data is securely retained without any loss.
The components of the Spare solution that CapMetro implemented include:
- Digital Eligibility: CapMetro introduced Spare Engage which automates the process for applying for the ADA paratransit service. The process includes digital application submission, professional verification, review and notification, and an appeals process. Seamless communication from administrators ensures applicants are informed every step of the way.
Once an applicant is confirmed eligible, a unique profile is set up for them within Spare Platform. This allows riders to easily book rides via the app, website, or a simple phone call, and receive notifications about their upcoming trips.
- ADA-Compliant Service Configuration: Together CapMetro and Spare configured the service based on Access service requirements, including staying within ADA-mandated pick-up windows. CapMetro was able to import service zone files from the previous system to ease the transition to Spare.
- Real-time Optimization: Spare Platform introduced an intelligent routing algorithm that not only improved on-time performance but also ensured that trip productivity wasn’t compromised. Contrary to the expected drop in productivity with increased punctuality, the new system maintains optimal output.
- Automated Dispatch, Manual Intervention: With Spare in place, dispatching trips has become much more streamlined. Instead of having to dispatch trips manually, the software optimizes routes in real-time, removing inefficiencies that have drivers zig-zagging across town, leading to delays. With dispatch automated, Access dispatchers now focus on getting ahead of potential issues. With Spare’s Mission Control and Live Map, they can easily scan, or be alerted to any issues in the system.
- Streamlined Booking through an App (available in December 2023) The introduction of a customer app will mark a notable advancement in the service. The app will allow riders to book their trip, notify them when the vehicle is two minutes out, and have full visibility throughout their trip, effectively reducing last-minute cancellations and no-shows. It will also keep them informed with trip reminders and alerts about any alterations in pickup schedules. With payment and identification in the app, riders will be able to board hands-free.
CapMetro went live with Spare Platform on October 1, 2023. Since then, on-time pickups surpassed the original OTP goal of 92% for the first time in 18 months. With the previous system’s OTP at 88%, the improvement is a testament to system efficiency and is crucial in ensuring riders reach their destinations as scheduled.
Thanks to the user-friendly nature of Spare Platform, riders, reservationists, dispatchers, and drivers have easily adopted the system.
“Spare provided us with a really unique product that is intuitive," explained Ballentine. "We wanted to make sure that everyone, whether they were riders with disabilities or our internal operations staff, could easily use the software.”
- Dispatcher Experience: With Spare, dispatchers have complete visibility and control over the dispatch system. Spare Platform notifies them when there are potential issues, allowing them to “override” the system to resolve issues proactively. On the flip side, Spare’s real-time routing and optimization engine automatically re-shuffles trip requests throughout the day, giving dispatchers their time back to respond to on-the-ground changes or emergencies.
- Rider Experience: The introduction of the app fostered rider independence, allowing users to easily book, cancel, or check on the ETA of their rides, as an additional option to calling in. eliminating the previous requirement of phone calls. By offering riders an increased level of information and the autonomy to manage their journeys, the app significantly enhanced their overall experience and quality of life.
- Driver Experience: The new system significantly reduces the pressure on drivers. Before Spare, drivers were confined to strict pickup windows that relied on their intuition of when they needed to arrive to pick up a rider, often leading to rushed driving to meet schedules. The Spare Driver app, however, regulates their pace with turn-by-turn guidance of the next scheduled pick up which helps maintain punctuality without rushing and relieves stress for drivers. The app goes one step further by advising additional stops when drivers are ahead of schedule to keep the manifest and subsequent pickups on time.
- Management Experience: The new system provides leaders with remote access to monitor Access operations allowing them to be physically closer to operations and not behind a desk.
Partners in CapMetro's Success
Transitioning to Spare from a system that had been in use for over 20 years was an all-hands-on-deck affair. Long before the launch date, CapMetro and Spare worked closely to define a training plan for the 500+ CapMetro staff. The training plan was put into action weeks before launch.
The week before launch, Spare’s leadership and the product implementation teams were on-site, ensuring the system's efficient integration and functioning.
“We had the leadership of Spare, founders of Spare as well as their senior development team, here with us. Nobody was spared. Everyone came here and they worked on the system with us side by side pre-launch, leading up to the launch and then following through. They were with us in the mornings at 3 a.m. all the way till the evening, until we were all comfortable with how it was performing, and it didn't take very long for that. It's been really easy and really kind of fun to implement.”
For CapMetro, the decision to integrate Spare was a bold move, but in line with Austin's innovative spirit. The success of this venture offers hope and a roadmap for others to modernize and enhance their systems for the betterment of both staff and riders.
“It was a leap," Ballentine shares. "We were a little nervous at the time, but it's Austin, that's what we do. We took the leap and it worked very, very well. We’re hopeful that others can take that leap behind us. It'll be a lot less scary for them now that it’s proven that it’s possible to switch out the system you’ve had forever and go with something that’s going to really move your service forward.”