From Fixed Routes to Flex Routes: Additional Responses to the May 13 Webinar

By Dave Hahn

Dave Hahn is the Director of Digital Strategy for Meeting of the Minds.

May 26, 2020 | Governance, Mobility | 0 comments

Earlier this month we hosted a live webinar featuring Alex Gibson from TransLoc, and Josh Powers, who is serving as a member of the County Manager’s Office and is the contract administrator and regional transit liaison between Johnson County Government and the Kansas City Area Transit Authority (KCATA). Josh shared his unique perspective and insights from service changes and the re-utilization of infrastructure to creative ways to avoid driver layoffs and the allocation of resources with CARE Act funding.

Below are additional questions we were not able to answer during the live session.

What additional metrics would you suggest to a transit agency who only wants to compare demand-response to fixed-route based on riders per service hour?

Alex: Defining the overall outcomes you’d like to achieve is most important – that allows you to define your key performance indicators (KPIs) more appropriately. An example of an outcome might be access to food, physicians, or other essential services. This could be measured by looking at rides per hour on a more granular geographic level, and the impact thereof goes far beyond an increase in fare revenue.

Josh: Our aspirational goal is to better understand how mobility impacts things like the local economy (or access to food/housing/education, etc.). We assume that we know that increased mobility equals increased economic potential for individuals and jurisdictions, but we’d like to have explicit data justifying transit investment beyond cost-per-ride and riders-per-service-hour, i.e. the “but for” question, that is, “but for public transportation, would resident A lose their employment” and all of the impacts of that loss of employment. Microtransit allows for more robust data gathering than does traditional fixed route data collectors like Automatic Passenger Counters (APC), but to actually achieve what we’re looking for we would need a longitudinal study with a controlled group of riders. We’re currently in the planning phase of just such a study that will be focused on healthcare access and reducing unnecessary emergency room visits by providing transportation to maintenance healthcare visits, and tracking those outcomes.

What is the current approach for re-scaling as the Kansas state government opens up? How will it be different from pre-COVID operations?

Josh: The state of Kansas is utilizing a four phase approach to reopening, and we are currently in phase 1.5, which limits mass gatherings of more than 10, requires social distancing of at least 6 feet, and recommends either minimizing or avoiding nonessential travel.

For transit, we are running a system-wide service schedule with a 40% reduction in frequency, which basically reduces all of our service to hour-plus headways. We’ve blocked off every other row of seating for distancing purposes, and have suspended fares to minimize contact between operators and riders.

As the state continues to reopen, we will monitor daily ridership to ensure that we are not having more than 10 persons on a vehicle per trip, in order to comply with the statewide
plan. Once we see ridership begin to return, we will begin to increase frequency so that trips can be completed with the appropriate number of passengers onboard. Phase 2 of the plan increases the limit of mass gatherings to 15, and then to 45 under phase 3, so service will be amended based on these requirements of the state plan and with public safety as the overarching priority.

How will Flex routes be a solution for the disability population’s unique needs for transportation? Is that factored in?

Alex: Assuming that vehicles are ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible, flexible services benefit the entire population. The direct point-to-point deliverability of a more flexible transportation system better serves the needs of those with disabilities. Further, the ability for a transit agency to iterate quickly on their services means that when an opportunity to serve the most needy populations arises, the agency is positioned to act.

Josh: One primary benefit will be the real-time on-demand nature of the trip, versus having to make an appointment 24 hours or more in advance. All of our vehicles are ADA compliant, so regardless of preference (because we do see paratransit users who prefer to make their trip reservations weeks in advance) we’re able to better tailor our services to our users’ unique circumstances.

How do you manage the USD 755k cost impact? Is there any stimulus package for decreased ridership via tax incentive?

Josh: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27 of this year, and provides $25 billion for transit nationally. In Johnson County we will receive approximately $7.1 million in CARES Act funding, which we will use to recoup lost revenue and any COVID-19 planning, capital or operating expenses.

Have you seen agencies in your county (or surrounding counties) incorporate documentation of these new procedures into their PTASPs?

Josh: I really haven’t. This came to our attention as we were responding to the COVID crisis, and we’re still working out how to approach integration as a pilot. That said, I think you’ll see more and more agencies start to include these procedures in the near future.

Many transit agencies are at a critical inflection point in their digital strategy with following COVID-19. How should they engage/integrate with existing rider MaaS solutions (Google Maps, TransitApp)? Should they try to own the customer experience and continue to compete or leverage the private sector’s larger user base?

Alex: Similar to an above answer, what is the goal of your agency? What would be the value in “owning the customer experience” vs the cost of doing so? Agencies – like those of us in the private sector – have to make real decisions about how we allocate our limited resources. As such, my best advice is to work with existing, commonly-used technologies – such as GTFS – to get your information into the hands of riders wherever and whenever they may be.

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