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How to Leverage Technology to Offer Same-Day Specialized Transit Services

Learn how on-demand transit software is making it possible for transit agencies to create more inclusive and equitable rider experience by offering same-day specialized transit services.

Globally, the number of people 65 years and older is expected to double by 2050. To ensure this population group, as well as people with disabilities, have equitable mobility options to access health care, social services, and other day-to-day needs, many transit agencies are thinking ahead when it comes to their specialized transit services.

While specialized transit is an on-demand transit service, it’s not as readily available in the sense that we’ve come to associate with “on-demand” — such as taxis or ride hailing. Specialized transit riders typically have to make their demand known ahead of time by booking their trip at least a day in advance, if not more.

In this blog, we break down the importance of introducing same-day specialized transit options, as well as how transit agencies can go about launching truly “on-demand” services in a cost-effective way while still meeting riders’ needs.

What is same-day specialized transit?

Specialized transit services exist to help people who cannot ride traditional fixed-route systems due to cognitive or mobility disabilities. Many specialized transit services require passengers to book their trips days in advance. This is so the transit provider can plan the most efficient routes that serve the most customers.

One of the emerging practices for specialized transit service providers is to permit same-day scheduling for specialized transit trips, rather than require 24-hour or prior-day reservations. Same-day specialized transit allows eligible riders to book assisted transit services on the same day that they wish to travel.

However, it also means that specialized transit riders often aren’t able to move around their cities as freely as those who rely on fixed-route services. Last-minute appointments, errands, or outings are often impossible for specialized transit riders, resulting in a gap in equitable mobility.

Same-day specialized transit increases transportation equity

Same-day specialized transit looks to alleviate those discrepancies by giving its riders the ability to:

  • Make more spontaneous travel plans
  • Choose when they want to depart from/arrive at a location
  • Enjoy shorter wait times and overall trip duration

But some agencies shy away from incorporating same-day trips because they worry that passenger demand will increase beyond a capacity their current fleet can manage, or because they lack the technology to enable last-minute bookings.

Luckily, on-demand transit platforms like Spare address those concerns and make same-day specialized transit possible for agencies of all sizes. Let’s take a closer look.

How on-demand transit platforms make same-day specialized transit possible

A common way same-day services are currently provided to specialized transit riders is through city-issued taxi vouchers and subsidy programs.

For instance, during the pandemic, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) created a discount program called the “Essential Trip Card.” The card covers 80% of the cost of two to three round trips by taxi per month for seniors and people with disabilities.

While in Hamilton, Ontario, the city runs a Taxi Script program which provides taxi discount coupons to people with physical or functional disabilities who are unable to access fixed-route public transit. Taxi Voucher or Taxi Script are other terms to look for that are same-day programs but not labeled that way. The SF Paratransit is a good example of how a city is promoting this service.

However, these programs typically run alongside specialized transit services and require individual management.

This is where on-demand transit software steps in to help: through solutions like Spare’s “Open Fleets” module, agencies can centralize multiple services within a single dispatch system, increasing rider autonomy by providing them with choices, and improving operational and cost-efficiency for agencies.

Here are the three key ways Spare enables smooth and effective implementation of same day ADA specialized transit services.

1) Trip brokering

Trip brokering is when an agency uses a third-party operator to provide services to its riders. It allows agencies to meet spikes in demand without having to expand their own fleet of dedicated vehicles.

Durham Region Transit (DRT), for example, runs an extensive on-demand demand-responsive service covering 965 square miles in Toronto. They do this using only four dedicated vehicles that are owned and operated by DRT. When bumps in ridership occur — whether anticipated or not — the additional trips are brokered to local taxi companies.

Enabling agencies to meet demand without having to manage a large fleet isn’t the only way on-demand transit platforms help agencies introduce cost-efficient same-day specialized transit services.

Spare, for instance, automatically evaluates the riders’ needs alongside cost and time efficiencies when dispatching a third-party vehicle. So if the agency owns five dedicated vehicles with wheelchair accessibility features, but a specialized transit rider who doesn’t require those features requests a trip, the platform will automatically dispatch a third-party vehicle that costs less to operate.

2) Commingling

While trip brokering is about calling on third-party operators to help meet demand, commingling is all about making the most of an agency’s dedicated fleet by sharing them between two or more different services.

Let’s say an agency offers both specialized transit and demand-responsive services with its own separate sets of fleets. But the demand-responsive fleet has excess capacity that isn’t being used, and the low passenger-to-vehicle ratio is resulting in less efficient operational costs.

Through commingling, the agency allows its demand-responsive fleet to also serve specialized transit riders who are going in the same direction as the demand-responsive route — and whose needs are met by the demand-responsive vehicle.

On-demand transit software enables seamless commingling because when a specialized transit rider makes a same-day trip request, it will automatically scan the rider’s profile and see whether that person can be served by an active demand-responsive service. Like trip brokering, this allows the agency to offer same-day services without having to acquire a larger fleet.

Of course, commingling can also work in reverse: excess capacity on specialized transit vehicles can also be used to serve other on-demand riders.

That’s exactly what Wyoming’s Cheyenne Transit Program (CTP) did in 2020 when it partnered with Spare to launch a demand-responsive project. They quickly discovered that running demand-responsive alongside specialized transit was leading to redundancies and high operational per-trip costs. CTP decided to use Spare to commingle its specialized transit and demand-responsive services under one digital umbrella, which allowed them to decrease per-trip costs by 36%.

Not only does commingling allow an agency’s dedicated vehicles to run at fuller capacity, but it also means you can drive down costs by having the same drivers, mechanics, and support agents shared between multiple services.

3) Streamlined booking

Another way mobility platforms can improve the specialized transit rider experience is through streamlined booking. Instead of relying solely on manual dispatching, you can give passengers the convenient and immediate option to book through an app or website — which means a smaller support staff is needed to handle call-in bookings.

Smart booking options offered through apps like Spare are also able to optimize your operations by ensuring riders' needs are met in the most cost-effective way possible.

How can agencies benefit from providing same-day specialized transit

We’ve seen that there are technological solutions out there allowing agencies to offer same-day specialized transit services without struggling to meet demand or increasing operational costs.

In fact, offering same-day specialized transit services can be a win-win situation for both riders and transit agencies.

Here are a few more agency benefits:

  • Improved customer service. Riders will benefit from the convenience and flexibility of same-day services.
  • Increased fleet productivity. If a pre-booked passenger has to cancel their trip or doesn’t show up, that driver and vehicle can be used to pick up on-demand requests as opposed to just waiting for the next scheduled trip. This helps fill unproductive time created by no-shows and cancellations.
  • Long-term cost-effectiveness. While investing in same-day ADA services may initially come with a rise in operational costs, in the long-term, commingling and automatic trip brokering will result in cost efficiency.
  • Trip demand management. Many on-demand transit platforms allow you to set restrictions on trip distance and number of monthly trips, which reduces overall cost per trip.

Ready to learn more? Send an email at hello@sparelabs.com to know how Spare uses it's innovative Open Fleets module to help transit agencies deliver same-day paratransit cost-effectively.