The evolution of transit can be seen across North America as agencies work to improve their transit offerings to meet the challenges of today. These challenges include reduced ridership post-pandemic and unpredictability in demand as employees leverage hybrid work environments. To overcome these obstacles, modern transit offerings must be designed to have more resilience to ridership variability, greater vehicle utilization, and enhanced service delivery.
As agencies assess their demand-responsive transportation (DRT) portfolio to respond to these changes, they face the challenge of allocating their available resources across a range of services. With programs such as microtransit, ADA paratransit, and non-emergency medical transit (NEMT), each having their own unique service requirements, agencies are forced to segment their available vehicles and driver pools into dedicated services. This rigid allocation of resources can result in underutilized programs that do not have the flexibility to respond to the fluctuating demands of the different services.
To address this resource allocation challenge, a new transit solution has emerged that is designed to combine, or commingle, different programs so that resources can be pooled and shared between them. Through commingling, a single vehicle fleet can carry both microtransit and paratransit passengers while meeting the requirements for each service (e.g. on board time, stop types, boarding/alighting times, etc.) and delivering a seamless experience to each passenger.
Service Parameters of a Commingled Model
Service parameters can be uniquely set across passenger types in a unified commingled model to leverage the advantages of different transit programs.
To ensure that the appropriate level of service is provided to each passenger while maximizing the productivity of the commingled fleet, passengers can be offered different stop types, wait times, onboard times, and seat configurations, among other parameters. These parameters can be automatically tailored based on:
In order to meet ADA standards and provide efficient service for paratransit passengers, a maximum onboard time can be set relative to direct trip time, to vary with the time of day, or to a fixed time cap through Solver, RideCo’s patented routing engine, to dynamically provide the service level necessary to meet the needs of the riders present in the itinerary.
One common example of commingling is tuning the system to have microtransit passengers picked up and dropped off at flex stops while paratransit passengers are picked up and dropped off at their doorsteps.
In 2022, Airdrie Transit partnered with RideCo and PWT to move to a commingled service model in response to their underutilized fixed routes. Through commingling, Airdrie Transit strategically combined resources to simultaneously serve both paratransit and microtransit riders. While maintaining an outstanding passenger experience averaging a trip rating of 4.7/5 stars, this change has allowed Airdrie Transit to reduce costs, expand service days, attract new riders, and better serve the needs of their paratransit users.
Enhancing Operational Efficiency
With the deployment of new transit programs, each requiring their own service parameters, manual scheduling is no longer feasible. To meet the complex scheduling requirements of each service, Solver provides the automation necessary to achieve operational efficiency.
To maximize vehicle utilization and mitigate demand fluctuation, RideCo’s Configuration Optimizer streamlines the distribution of passengers across the available fleet and continuously optimizes seat allocation based on the trips present in the system. Based on demand, paratransit vehicles can be used for microtransit trips in the commingled service until a paratransit passenger requires a seat in an ADA-compliant vehicle. The microtransit passenger’s upcoming trip would then be reallocated to a different vehicle, ensuring that both the paratransit rider and the microtransit rider receive the appropriate level of service while still maximizing fleet utilization.
“RideCo’s [platform] optimizes requested rides to accommodate as many people with as few vehicles as possible to ensure riders reach their destinations in a reliable way.” - The Town of Cobourg Staff Report
The Passenger App's smartphone application and web booking portal can be leveraged to book both microtransit and paratransit rides in the commingled service. Registered paratransit passengers can opt to ride in a wheelchair accessible vehicle or a general seat type depending on their individual needs. By selecting a wheelchair accessible seat, the system will only send a wheelchair accessible vehicle that has enough capacity to accommodate this seat type. Passenger profile details can also notify drivers of any disabilities or accommodation requests that the passenger might have.
To overcome the fluctuating demand challenges found in the existing deployment, Guelph Transit adopted a commingled service model utilizing RideCo’s technology, allowing them to move overflow microtransit riders to their paratransit service. While managing trips in both curb-to-curb paratransit and stop-to-stop microtransit, Guelph Transit's Mobility Services is able to provide an exceptional customer experience with an average trip rating of 4.8/5 stars and 96%+ on-time performance.
For trips that require specific data points to qualify for funding (e.g. Medicaid), passengers or reservationists can be prompted to provide information such as trip purpose or intended funding source. This information is stored and reported with the trip in order to help transit agencies streamline reconciliation processes in accordance with funding requirements.
While Solver’s autonomous routing optimization delivers automatic dispatching, the ability for a dispatcher or reservationist to manually adjust rides to group specific passengers together or modify driver-passenger assignments based on context such as passenger preference is critical in a customer-centric service. Commingling through RideCo’s platform enables dispatchers and reservations to make these customizations, and improve passenger satisfaction, loyalty, and service ridership.
Elevating the Passenger Experience with Self-Service
To create a seamless transition in service for existing passengers, while attracting new passengers to grow ridership, a commingled service must be flexible enough to accommodate the different program requirements while providing a seamless passenger experience. For paratransit passengers, this means that they can expect the same level of care that they have come to rely on, but may also share their ride with a microtransit passenger going to a nearby destination.
The Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for Merced County initiated RideCo to redesign their transit offering for Los Banos and connecting communities in 2021. An outdated paratransit software, coupled with an infrequent fixed route, made traveling from outlying communities cumbersome and lengthy. Leveraging the innovations of the commingling service model, the fixed route was replaced and residents are now provided with the comfort of 15-minute trips and 13-minute frequencies. This commingled offering allows Merced JPA the ability to pool resources while improving service quality for all. Since its implementation, Merced JPA residents have been pleased with the commingled service, boasting an average trip rating of 4.9/5 stars.
Through RideCo’s accessible product offerings, passengers can book on-demand and in-advance trips. Alongside the option of calling a reservationist, the RideCo Passenger App is designed to enable all riders to easily book, modify, and monitor their trips. Subscription bookings can also be utilized to automatically schedule the same trip across multiple days.
To increase service transparency, riders are notified of important trip details before, during, and after their journey. Within the Passenger App, riders can view upcoming and past ride details. These details include driver and vehicle information, real-time vehicle tracking, pickup window, and arrival before time depending on the status of the ride. This information ensures that riders are kept informed, allowing them to plan their day accordingly so appointments are not missed and passengers have a reliable ETA.
A Tailored Approach
To deliver a successful commingled service, it is essential that agencies partner with vendors who are committed to understanding their needs, and providing a tailored solution that enables accessible and equitable mobility within the community.
These tailored solutions can be seen operating at RideCo deployments across North America, as shown through the Cobourg Rides case study. While their microtransit program was reaching capacity, the paratransit program was underutilized. To better leverage the available resources and improve service delivery, a commingled service model was implemented that allows both passenger types to be served using a shared vehicle fleet. Since the implementation, Cobourg Rides continues to see higher vehicle utilization, enhanced service delivery, and even won the 2022 CUTA Innovation Award.
Service results from the Cobourg Rides case study:
As a trusted technology partner, RideCo is committed to working alongside agencies to better understand their users’ needs and provide a solution that reduces the mobility challenges that impact their everyday lives.
The depth of this partnership can be seen through the success of our deployments as we help agencies identify project goals, design suitable service models, and support launches throughout their programs with our dedicated project management team.
As the transit industry continues to evolve across North America, it is essential that transit offerings are designed to be more resilient to fluctuation, achieve greater vehicle utilization, and strive for enhanced service delivery to meet the needs of modern ridership trends. To maneuver these challenges, agencies are turning to innovative solutions like commingling to provide the flexibility and customizations necessary to achieve these objectives.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about commingling and how it can help you more efficiently utilize available resources, benefiting both your agency and your passengers.