2. Operational Feasibility of Demand-Response and Fixed-Route Implementation
Decades before the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Ed Roberts, along with other leaders of the independent living movement from both congressional and grass-root perspectives, stressed access to fixed-route transit for people with disabilities. Fixed-route transit is defined by APTA (2003) as service provided on a repetitive, fixed-schedule along a specific route with vehicles stopping to pick up and deliver passengers to specific locations. Special services, such as demand-response, independent living activists argued, are too limiting and go against the integrationist spirit of their cause (Bowe 1979). Demand-response transit service is defined by Kirby et al. (1974) as transportation that "provides door-to-door service on demand to a number of travelers with different origins and destinations." Making fixed-route busses accessible to people with disabilities has been emphasized, and despite initial and continuing resistance from the transportation industry, definite progress has been made (Denson 1998).
To better understand the process of fixed-route implementation, several factors must be addressed. The discussion will begin with a state-of-the-practice description for integrated transit services throughout the United States, followed by a comparison between demand-response and fixed-route transportation, and concluded by discussing technology advancements that have aided fixed-route implementation for people with disabilities.
In the United States, many transit agencies are considering integrating their demand-response service with traditional fixed-route service. In some cases, it may be advantageous to the transit agency or to the passenger to coordinate traditional demand-response transit service with fixed-route services. The demand-response service connects passengers from their origin to the fixed- route service and (or) from the fixed-route service to their final destination. Using this concept, transit agencies can extend demand-response service into low-density markets or may substitute demand-response service for fixed-route service. Many rural areas do not run fixed-route service because of a lack of demand and funding. In these cases, operating costs may be reduced and the level of service to passengers may increase by providing door-to-door service (Hickman and Blume 2001).
Three main studies highlighting the transition and implementation of fixed-route services are discussed in the following subsections. These include studies conducted in British Columbia, Delaware, and Kentucky. All involved the transition of demand-response customers to fixed-routes.
British Columbia Transit
British Columbia (BC) Transit is committed to ongoing improvements in the accessibility of fixed-route transit services for mobility, health, economic, and social benefits. To maximize the benefits to the customer, the transit system, and the community at large, BC Transit must continue to assess needs while developing and promoting programs and services to support those able to use fixed-route services (Sowden and Wick 2001).
BC Transit offers a full range of transportation options, including accessible buses, door-to-door handy Daily Access Rapid Transit (DART) service, the Taxi Saver program and Community Travel Training. Demand-response provides door-to-door transportation service for clients who have demonstrated difficulty using accessible buses or for individuals who cannot otherwise use or travel to an accessible bus stop. Individuals must pre-register for custom transit services and may have to attend an orientation interview and provide a letter from their doctor to ensure that they meet eligibility criteria (Sowden and Wick 2001).
Because of increasing demand, moving custom service clients to fixed-route wherever possible is uppermost in the planning strategy and was a key factor in developing Community Travel Training and the concept of a registration and training center. Research and planning by BC Transit and input by the Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee resulted in the development of the Community Travel Training Program to meet the needs of BC Transit and the community (Sowden and Wick 2001).
The Community Travel Training Program is designed to be a short-term, comprehensive, sequential, consistent, individual and community-based support effort. Over the past two years the program trained more than 150 seniors and individuals with disabilities, ranging in age from 12 to older than 80, and has established and maintained partnerships with more than 300 representative organizations, schools, hospitals, and residential and recreational facilities. Roughly one-third of the 150 individuals who were trained through the program indicated during follow-up that they now use fixed-route service for their primary transportation requirements, using custom transit only in inclement weather, at night or when their medical condition requires (Sowden and Wick 2001).
BC Transit estimated the cost per trip for demand-response services to be $12.50. The first year that training was offered, 50 clients switched from demand-response to fixed-route service, saving a potential demand-response transit cost of $195,000. Subtracting $45,000 for training costs and $50,000 for added fixed-route costs, BC Transit saved roughly $100,000 last year with similar savings and results indicated for the current year (Sowden and Wick 2001).
New Castle County, Delaware Transit
New Castle County, Delaware, was the only county in the state with an extensive fixed-route system at the time this study was conducted. Approximately one-third of the fixed-route buses were equipped with lifts and a "call-a-lift" program was just being made available in the county. The use of accessible fixed-route transit was not a viable option at the time of the study. The study's intent was to explore the "willingness" or receptivity of the current riders to the concept of transitioning to fixed-route services for planning purposes (Denson 1998).
A total of 1,266 eligible riders were surveyed and individuals who had questions or who wished to register by telephone were encouraged to call the research office. To further encourage participation, the surveys were mailed with a solicitation letter explaining that respondents who completed the survey would be entered in a drawing for one of two $50 cash awards (Denson 1998). The mailing generated 174 responses, an initial response rate of 14 percent.
The majority of survey respondents (69 percent) reported that, if accessible, they would be unable to use the fixed-route bus system. The most common reason given for not using fixed-route buses was the inability to travel to and from the bus stop. Others stated that a lack of availability as the reason for not using the fixed-route buses. Respondents with a physical disability were more likely than respondents with a sight disability to explain that they did not ride the fixed-route bus because of their specific disability, showing that those with physical issues would not adjust as easily to fixed-route ridership (Denson 1998).
The average cost of providing a paratransit trip in the study's state is $26.89 with riders paying $2 for a one-way trip, and each fixed-route trip is $2.67 with riders paying $1.15 per trip (Benson 1998). The potential savings of any significant move to fixed-route services become apparent based on the previous demand-response and fixed-route transit cost differences.
The results of this study support two key themes of the general literature on transportation for people with disabilities. First, an accessible bus fleet is just one aspect of the systematic accessibility required to make fixed-route public transit a viable option for people with disabilities. Second, even when steps are taken to improve accessibility within the entire public transportation system, a significant number of paratransit riders will be unwilling to stop using a service with which they are generally satisfied.
Richmond, Kentucky Transit
The city of Richmond (population 27,000) is located in central Kentucky, approximately 30 miles south of Lexington. Over the past decade its population has expanded rapidly. At the time of the study, Richmond did not have a fixed-route system. Transit-eligible citizens are served by a local non-profit transit service. The service operates a demand-response system of buses and vans (O'Connell et. al. 2002).
This analysis attempted to determine which citizens would most likely ride public transportation. Four main socioeconomic characteristics where selected to determine a citizens' likelihood of riding public transit. These included vehicle status, percent of population over age 65, household income, and percent of African-American population. Census data were used to identify the areas within the city of Richmond that exhibited the previous socioeconomic characteristics. All data were analyzed at the block-group level (O'Connell et. al. 2002).
To determine the best place for bus routes, census blocks were identified where the percentage of households with no vehicle was higher than the median for Richmond. Also identified were the census blocks in which the percent of individuals over age 65 was higher than the median, as well as the blocks in which the median household income fell below the county median. Last, the blocks where the percentage of African Americans was above the median were identified. The blocks tended to overlap, which facilitated drawing a 7-mile loop bus route that could be run hourly. The route was designed to maximize contact with the most likely production areas and attractions (O'Connell et. al. 2002).
After identifying the best area for a fixed-route, the next step was to estimate the number of current demand-response riders who could be transferred to the new route. To do this, the researchers worked with the directors of the local transit operation. It was estimated that the proposed fixed-route would make it possible to reduce the present demand-response fleet from seven to five vehicles. This reduction in demand-response vehicle use will result in an estimated annual savings of $71,544 (O'Connell et. al. 2002).
The Richmond study concluded that a portion of those citizens currently riding in demand response vehicles could be shifted to a fixed-route in the city. Also, with the data from the study of Richmond, an example is provided of the savings that could be generated by transferring a relatively small portion of those who ride the demand-response buses to a bus in a fixed-route system. It was found that Richmond could obtain a fixed-route bus service with little or no additional spending, as the combination of reduced cost for the lessening of demand-response service and new revenue from fare-box customers would cover much, and perhaps all, of the additional expense (O'Connell et. al. 2002).
Two broad trends characterize the current evolution of public transportation in the United States. First, as the population moves out of larger cities to the suburbs, small cities, and towns, fewer Americans rely on fixed-route public transportation. This results in growing reliance on the personal automobile with resulting effects on the social and physical environment. Second, as the population ages, reliance on publicly funded demand-response systems for transportation to medical and other facilities increases. The two trends work against each other with respect to fixed-route implementation.
Pros and Cons of Demand-Response and Fixed-Route
The decline in the use of fixed-route service has some undesirable consequences. Demand-response systems can be very expensive to operate, because there are few passengers in the vehicle, sometimes only one. Cost per trip for demand-response service range from $5 to $27, whereas fixed-route service costs range from $1.75 to $4 per trip, a substantial cost difference. In fact, it is often the case that government pays local taxi companies to transport eligible citizens to doctors' offices and other destinations. Also, demand-response systems, unlike fixed-routes, do not reduce use of the private automobile. In cities with fixed-route transit systems, the average vehicle miles traveled tend to be lower. Such cities also tend to have more concentrated populations and therefore less urban sprawl relative to their general population (O'Connell et. al. 2002).
In other situations, longer trip lengths and growing support for demand-response service may lead a transit agency to consider providing at least part of the trip on fixed-route service, thereby reducing operating costs (Hickman and Blume 2001). Operating costs of demand-response service have increased as a result of the difficulties encountered by the elderly and the disabled in utilizing transit services and increased driver wages. The ADA requires that complementary paratransit services be provided to eligible elderly and disabled riders. Demand-response service is well suited to the provision of such complimentary service, but is very expensive. Integrated services have the potential to reduce the costs of providing this service.
Relationship of Demand Response and Fixed-Route Transit
Historically, fixed-route transit and demand-response developed independently. Transit operators provided fixed-route transit, and social service agencies provided demand-response, although there were notable exceptions. Demand-response became the only public transit operation in many small cities in the states that provided funding for this type of transportation. The notion that demand-response and fixed-route transit both have a role in a family of services for specific markets has been slow to spread (Lave and Mathis 2001).
Changes in organizational structures, internal procedures, and the use of technology are reducing the distinction between regular-route services and demand-response. Service planning will continue to move toward incorporating appropriate roles for a range of modes instead of a "one-size-fits-all" approach. Future systems will deploy a range of services in different geographic areas, by different time of day or day of week to make public transit more attractive while increasing overall system efficiency. Demand-response and fixed-route transit will be seen as comprising a number of options for public transportation agencies (Lave and Mathis 2001).
The transit industry has shown significant interest in new technology such as vehicle-location systems and automated fares. However, these applications are typically agency specific. Advanced technology across two or more agencies is far less common (Giuliano et. al. 2002). The most advanced integrated transit services exist today in the United States in the form of "feeder service" and "smart shuttle" programs that utilize computer-assisted scheduling routines in the integration of transit services. Others, however, do not involve such sophisticated technology and may rely on simple computer dispatching software to schedule their services (Hickman and Blume 2001). Concepts and tools used to incorporate advanced technology into integrated transit systems are discussed in the following sections.
Concepts for Integrating Transit Services
Integrating demand-response service with other modes is the main goal of a flexible operation system. The objectives have always been to integrate rail, fixed-route bus and demand-response services into a homogenous public transit network. In a complex transit system, demand-response modes are effectively used to supplement fixed-route service in areas where the traffic demand is too low and scattered to provide acceptable fixed-routes or schedules (Greschner 2001).
The success of flexible operation systems can be measured in three ways. First, the increased productivity of the revenue vehicles because of the ability to change the operations mode in area and time in accordance with changing traffic demand can be evaluated. Second, savings in run time and performance because, in demand-response mode, trip requests can be satisfied over the individual shortest route and stops. Third, operational experience shows fixed-route services can be supplemented or substituted by demand-response modes when and where area-wide transit coverage at low traffic demand is required (Greschner 2001). Evaluating these three attributes will gauge the effectiveness of integrated transit services.
Tools for Integrating Transit Services
For many years, people have designed concepts to integrate demand-response with fixed-route service. Implementing such concepts results in an increase in the quality and productivity of transit service. However, hardware and software tools have to support such concepts (Greschner 2001). A recent Federal Transit Administration report describes the roles and successes of advanced technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), Advanced Vehicle Location (AVL), and operations software at North American Transit Agencies (Hickman and Blume 2001).
GIS has the ability to integrate and maintain large-size spatial transportation databases from different data sources and can conduct and support spatial and temporal analysis. Particularly, GIS has the ability to model and refine large-scale networks and control quality of information flow among various models. To integrate itinerary planning and GIS technologies, the functionality of a GIS system needs to be extended or modified. The key to the successful integration is the design of spatial network databases and associated management tools to meet the various spatial function needs of itinerary planning (Li and Kurt 2001).
Highly-sophisticated AVL techniques for demand response and fixed-route planning have provided enormous break-throughs for scheduling. The advantages are based on data and communication systems allowing for the transfer of information and messages. This element reduces voice communication traffic. Also, the transfer of information to the vehicle operator via data radio avoids the usage of paper and allows the dispatcher to change and delete trips online when the vehicle is in service (Greschner 2001).
Transit services and costs vary substantially throughout the United States. Whether or not fixed-route or demand-response service is better for a given area is very subjective and often based on many underlying factors. Factors may include age, socioeconomic status, and physical limitations of riders as well as a given community's size and geographic landscape. Technology can add to the efficiency of almost any system, but a cost/benefit analysis should preclude any advanced technology procurement as many technologies may be unnecessary or too costly for a given transit system. The following chapter will highlight the research methods used within the study, and how the demographics and available technologies may influence fixed-route implementation with the James River Transit Center.