20 minutes Author: Shared-Use Mobility Center Date Launched/Enacted: Aug 2, 2022 Date Published: August 2, 2022
This is the third phase of the four-phase lessons learned module about the Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) Ride microtransit service. The first phase was on learning and building trust and the second phase was on procurement. The third phase of the project deals with exploring trip share opportunities with other transportation providers in the Atlanta region. In more sophisticated forms it has been referred to as a Trip Exchange. The goal of this work was to create a dialogue across Atlanta’s mobility providers to understand what other agencies are doing around mobility, and specifically microtransit and demand-responsive transportation (DRT), to see how agencies might be able to work together to expand mobility choice and work through challenges related to a regionally integrated mobility system, or Universal Mobility as a Service.
In 2020, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS) received a grant from the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). Through this grant, CPACS aims to provide mobility on demand (MOD) solutions for people with disabilities and older adults, through a service called CPACS Ride. One of the biggest challenges for CPACS Ride is that demand exceeds the supply of vehicles and driver availability. This is partly due to driver shortages that many transit agencies are experiencing. More importantly, the demand would likely exceed capacity regardless if CPACS was fully staffed and had all of its vehicles in circulation. To try and mitigate these capacity issues, the project team explored opportunities to coordinate mobility services and share trips across agencies when either could not accept a trip or if it made sense given the rider origin or destination. Trip share defined under this pilot project is when at least two transit operators join forces and share their time, resources, and data to serve riders. Trip share can help agencies serve more riders across more zones while limiting straining their own time and resources.
There are different ways that trip sharing across one or more transit agencies or mobility operators can occur. For this project, we were looking to pilot trip sharing to see what it would take to bring two different size agencies together, where each agency is available to support the other in situations where either could not fulfill a particular trip. This pilot would have been a customized solution where each of the agencies’ mobility service platforms would be designed to read the others’ selected trip details that they were looking to share through an API. This itself is not unique but the project hoped to use this initial pilot to then explore how this trip share communication could be standardized between the operators using the Transactional Data Specification (TDS). The TDS outlines a common data format for rider trip information to be shared across two or more agencies or mobility operators. If one provider does not have a vehicle or driver available when a customer requests a ride, that provider can post that trip to the system and another provider in the network can pick it up and complete that ride. This coordination means fewer trip denials, fewer empty seats, and lower costs per passenger. Other benefits include less staff time dedicated to manually coordinating and scheduling trips among different providers, accurate billing related to data for trips, and most important, better service for customers (Jana Lynott, DRT Data Specification Workshop, at the Shared-Use Mobility Center National Shared Mobility Summit, 2022). For those interested in learning more about the benefits of an interoperable mobility system and the TDS, AARP boasts a number of resources and a SUMC case study offers an overview on data specifications.
In this effort, the project team initially set out to pilot trip sharing opportunities between CPACS and their neighboring transit provider, Gwinnett County Transit (GCT). GCT is a county transit agency that covers a larger area.
Figure 1 – Diagrammatic map of the 13-county ATL region and the service areas of the 11 transit operators covered in the Annual Report and Audit. Source – ATL 2021 Annual Report and Audit
Shortly into the project several challenges surfaced making this integration difficult. While both agencies were open to the concept and the project team worked to identify specific opportunities to pilot such an effort, differences in the service models, differences in the customer experience, and change in leadership at GCT posed a number of challenges. For example, the rider eligibility criteria, including the geographic service area, were different for both agencies. GCT provides DRT service within ¾ of a mile of a fixed-route, whereas CPACS geographic eligibility criteria is available at a county-wide basis, provided the rider meets the other eligibility criteria and is age 65 or older or is a person with disability over the age of 18. Another consideration is the customer experience that CPACS strives to provide for its riders, which is often more difficult for a larger transit agency to carry out. In this instance, the technology to implement the trip share pilot was not a big hurdle, but more so technicalities and coordination between a social services organization that provides transit and a larger county transit agency. The TDS, if fully implemented, could help to mitigate these differences given that the trip data are exchanged in a common data language easing the burden of multiple vendors with multiple in-house software. Lastly, about halfway through the project, GCT experienced a change in leadership. While the new leadership team was open to the concept, we were starting from the beginning to build trust and establish the foundation needed for this level of integration. None of these challenges were insurmountable, but the combination of them quickly scaled this effort beyond the scope of this pilot.
In light of this, the project team explored a number of other trip sharing opportunities for CPACS to coordinate services and look for common ground that could benefit participating agencies. These included the Atlanta region Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) network, a Korean Taxi Company, and co-mingling of services with transportation network companies (TNCs).
The team met with and explored the benefits and challenges of these different relationships and ultimately used Lyft TNC, made available through a partnership and promotion with Spare. This approach avoided the need to implement a trip exchange platform all together, because the Lyft rides were hailed within the Spare platform. Under the current timing and budget constraints of this project, this solution provided the least amount of resistance and offered an immediate solution for CPACS to expand on its driver and vehicle capacity. At the time of this publication (July 2022), CPACS has deployed 29 Lyft rides. These benefits notwithstanding, this solution operates on a proprietary platform that is not directly replicable beyond CPACS and the software as a service (SaaS) platform that it uses.
The project team continues to work on the larger interoperability and regional mobility framework as it has been meeting with and learning about neighboring agency operations, challenges, and capacity constraints. The project team has taken advantage of existing networks when available and is working with the Atlanta Regional Council (ARC) to establish a Georgia Microtransit Working Group to broaden the understanding and applications of microtransit. Building these relationships and having local champions on the ground to work toward interoperability and the TDS is an important first step that requires time and will hopefully move Atlanta toward Universal Mobility as a Service.