3 Key Takeaways from "How Houston METRO Modernized Its Legacy Dial-a-Ride"

Jess Blenkarn
February 25, 2021
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5 minute read

On February 24th, 2021, RideCo’s Director of Business Development Dustin Heimler was joined by Michael Andrade and Brittney Houston of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County for our webinar: “How Houston METRO Modernized its Legacy Dial-a-Ride.”

METRO’s Community Connector service first launched in 2015 in Acres Homes, a neighborhood just outside of Houston, to help improve transit access for residents in the zone. However, as ridership on the original Community Connector service grew, it became clear that METRO needed to find a more efficient and modern scheduling & dispatching solution. That’s when they started to explore on-demand transit.

Throughout the webinar, attendees learned more about METRO’s motivations for implementing on-demand transit as well as the planning that went into the project. Additionally, the speakers touched on the benefits both METRO and their riders are now experiencing because of the new service. Here are the top three takeaways from the webinar:

1. Legacy Dial-a-Ride Services are Inefficient

METRO Houston’s legacy Dial-a-Ride service required riders to phone a call center and book rides about 60 minutes in advance of pickup. Then, the call center would manually plan driver routes, which frequently resulted in inefficient schedules and congested radio traffic. With the legacy Dial-a-Ride service, riders were unable to track their vehicle in real time and could not book rides on demand, making trip planning quite challenging.

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Original METRO LIFT vehicle (left, yellow) and the new and improved Community Connector shuttle (right, white).

These challenges are not unique to Houston’s dial-a-ride. This kind of service is inflexible and inefficient when leveraging legacy scheduling and dispatching software. It does not easily allow for schedule adjustments based on changing traffic conditions and rider demand, and requires significant manual intervention to change vehicle routes or itineraries. Instead, legacy dial-a-ride services simply clog call centers and frustrate riders.

In the beginning, the way we were handling customer requests was basically over the phone and then we would transmit that trip information over the radio to our operators… We knew as the service grew, we needed a better way to manage the service.

— Michael Andrade, Director of Paratransit Services, Houston METRO

2. Modernizing With On-demand Transit is Simple

After recognizing the inefficiencies in their Dial-a-Ride service, METRO engaged RideCo to help modernize this important element of their transit system. RideCo and METRO now provide the Community Connector as an on-demand transit service, powered by the Curb2Curb app, in 3 zones totaling over 40 square miles.

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Service zones in Houston totaling over 40 square miles.

RideCo helped METRO with both the design and implementation of this new solution, including planning the service zones, the fleet size required, and the service’s marketing methods. We also helped METRO with their COVID-19 mitigation measures, including lowering the maximum number of passengers permitted and suggesting sanitation and safety measures in all vehicles.

While ridership and safety for our drivers and customers is important, the priority is to focus on safety first, so we did ramp up our safety measures.

— Brittney Houston, Microtransit Manager, Houston METRO

METRO’s initial pilot goals included an improvement to passenger convenience and wait times, a reduction in call center bookings by 20%, an increase in ridership by 10%, and a customer satisfaction rating of over 4.0/5.0.

Not only will your goals and definitions of success look different from Houston METRO because it’s got to be specific to your agency, but it can also vary pretty dramatically on a zone by zone or use case by use case basis as well.

— Dustin Heimler, Director of Business Development and Partnerships, RideCo

METRO was also one of RideCo’s first clients to implement our new dynamic driver breaks feature, which improves on-time performance and continuously adapts to disruptions in operations or schedules, while ensuring every driver gets their breaks on time.

Implementing this innovative solution was simple for METRO. The service only took approximately 8 weeks to plan, though the COVID-19 pandemic did delay the actual launch. It all started with contacting RideCo to learn more about how our on-demand transit could help solve their city’s transit pain points.

3. RideCo Drives Productivity for METRO Houston

When the project started, METRO wanted to reduce stress on their call center and increase service efficiency by moving from a dial-a-ride to an on-demand system. Since implementing the service, METRO’s goals have quickly been achieved. Less than 40% of rides are booked through the call center now, causing the agency to have an overall reduction in call center bookings of over 60%.

RideCo surpassed METRO’s goals and even helped them achieve other key performance indicators as well, such as:

  • a 15%+ increase in ridership
  • a 20%+ reduction in cost per passenger
  • 98% on time performance
  • a 10-minute average wait time
  • a 4.7 out of 5 average trip rating from riders

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Riders love the service too: the average ride rating is 4.7/5 stars.

RideCo’s on-demand transit system has worked alongside METRO’s call center to reduce stress on employees, increase ridership, and dynamically optimize schedules to find the most efficient route for each trip.

The flexibility of microtransit provides a lot more possibilities for the future.

— Michael Andrade, Director of Paratransit Services, Houston METRO

Such impressive results are not unique to Houston, however. When Guelph Transit introduced a RideCo-powered on-demand service, they achieved a 45% reduction in call center volumes alongside a similar average rating of 4.7/5.0 stars from passengers.

To learn more about Houston’s new on-demand transit system, and how you can modernize your own city’s dial-a-ride service, watch the full webinar recording on-demand.

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