From Fixed Routes to Flex Routes: Additional Responses to the May 13 Webinar
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
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.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.
In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.
One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing. Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.
ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots” for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions. This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.
Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.
It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.