Staff Report #4
June 28, 2023
To All Commissioners
Re: Update on Alternative Service Delivery
That the report be NOTED and FILED.
Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) models for the delivery of public transit services are in place in many jurisdictions on varying scales and can include flex routes, on-demand services and in some cases, an integration of conventional and specialized services providing a combination of service models. In addition to the type of service options, the delivery options can also vary between transit employees providing the service and contracts being issued the third parties for the provision of the service with transit employees overseeing delivery contracts.
In some smaller jurisdictions, public transit service is provided entirely as an on-demand service where riders book and pay for their transit trips through a mobile application and the drivers and vehicle are contracted to a third party. In larger jurisdictions, these various methods are utilized in conjunction with traditional transit routes to provide access to the community at large in a manner that meets the needs of riders and balances service levels based on those needs.
In London a modified flex-route model has been in use since the introduction of the first Community Bus Routes 1995. This service provides service from a similar origin to different destinations on different days of the week, along a flexible route. The flexible route includes a number of pre-determined stops, similar to those utilized on a regular conventional transit route, but also provides the opportunity for riders to call in and request a pick-up closer to their point of origin in which case the bus will deviate from the route to make the desired stops. This model has worked extremely well in serving the Cherryhill community since its inception, and a similar service was introduced to the Berkshire community in April 2019.
On-demand services, which require the rider to book their trip versus waiting at a traditional bus stop, have been used for many years for the delivery of specialized services as these services often provide door-to-door service. Over the past number of years, conventional transit systems have begun to introduce on-demand services to their delivery models. In 2021, an initial pilot project to serve the Innovation Park Industrial area was included in the Service Plan improvements, and was anticipated to be delivered as an on-demand service. Unfortunately, all service improvement plans for 2021 and 2022 were placed on hold due to the ongoing pandemic and resulting employee resource issues.
Innovation Park was identified as a pilot project for on-demand given the relatively low ridership potential identified in the 2021 study based on feedback from employers in the area. At the time of the study, potential demand to/from the Innovation Park area ranged between 1 and 15 trips per hour, with the projections exceeding 10 trips per hour in two one-hour time slots. Subsequent to the completion of this study, London Transit has heard from a number of employers who are new to the area and/or moving to the area indicating they have a significant number of employees who rely on public transit to get to work. The potential ridership being reported by employers in the area would meet the ridership threshold for industrial services of 15 riders per hour, and as such, the decision was made to move forward with the launch of a conventional transit route operating between Argyle Mall and Innovation Park on weekdays, during am and pm peaks as well as two late evening trips. All employers in the Innovation Park area have been advised of the service launch date of Monday June 26, and have been provided with copies of the route map and schedule.
The direction taken with the Innovation Park service in no way diminishes the potential for successful on-demand services in other areas of the city to be incorporated into the conventional service model, and this will be a consideration as part of the 2024 service planning process. One of the initial requirements to establishing an on-demand service model is the implementation of a software application that allows riders to book their trips and then communicate those bookings to the vehicle providing the service. In anticipation of the Innovation Park service being delivered as on-demand, administration issued a request for proposal for the software/mobile application that would provide a hub to destination booking model which was consistent with the manner in which the Innovation Park service would have been provided (Argyle Mall being the hub). As mentioned, given the changes in ridership projections and subsequent change in approach for Innovation Park, coupled with an opportunity to address multiple initiatives on the 2023 Work Program collectively, the decision was made to forego awarding a contract for the provision of the software at this time. The bidders who responded to the request for proposal have been notified of this decision and advised that they will be contacted with respect to next steps going forward.
The Commission’s Business Plan and supporting 2023 Work Program include service integration (between conventional and specialized services) as well as the review/replacement of the scheduling/booking system for the specialized service as two initiatives that will significantly impact the nature of service delivery going forward as well as the associated costs.
As previously reported, a contract for the current software system utilized for booking and scheduling specialized transit trips (Routematch) was awarded in 2016 at an implementation cost of $850,000. The implementation was completed in phases, with the base system implementation being completed in September 2017, followed by the implementation of the web portal allowing customers to verify and cancel trips as well as the trip reminder which allowed customers to sign up for a reminder call 45 minutes prior to their booked trip time all of which was launched in May 2018. When the contract was awarded for the system, the vendor indicated future plans for a live vehicle tracking module as well as on-line trip booking which would be an optional add-on for system users going forward.
In July 2020 the Routematch software was purchased by Uber and while the software was maintained, there was no development being undertaken with respect to new features. In July 2022, the software was purchased by TripSpark. The software continues to be maintained; however, the turnaround time on service calls is unacceptable, resulting in administration having to implement workarounds to problems identified with the software. Subsequent to this second purchase, administration has remained in contact with other specialized transit service providers who utilize the software and all have indicated similar negative experience. While the system continues to perform the basic options associated with booking and scheduling trips, it is evident that a replacement system will be required in order to be able to move forward with additional features.
The replacement of the booking/scheduling software presents an opportunity organizationally in that the request for proposal for a new software system can be developed in a manner that will meet not only the needs for the specialized service, but also those of new on-demand services as part of the conventional service going forward. This will ultimately result in the ability for conventional and specialized vehicles to share the software, which will be a critical component of service integration as that initiative moves forward.
It is anticipated that the assistance of a consultant will be required for the development of the request for proposal which will include stakeholder consultation in order to ensure that all stakeholder expectations will be addressed with the new software. Details with respect to how the costs for the consultant will be funded as well as budget estimations for the overall project will be included in the budget report being tabled at the Commission’s August meeting.
Shawn Wilson, Director of Operations
Mike Gregor, Director of Finance
Katie Burns, Director of Planning
Concurred in by:
Kelly S. Paleczny, General Manager