3. Research Methods
This study investigated the feasibility of fixed-route implementation within small urban and rural communities. Fixed-route studies are often done within large urban areas, but there is a lack of research available pertaining to smaller communities. The following discussion highlights the research methods utilized to investigate the community of Jamestown, ND, which was used as a case study model for this research.
The research methods section is separated into four sections. First, the survey instrument used in the study and its design are discussed. This is followed by focus group meeting perceptions. Focus groups were developed to allow the research team to gain first-hand knowledge of Jamestown's current transit systems and to gain a better understanding of local riders' perceptions toward a fixed-route transit system in Jamestown. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis is then examined and used to analyze different routes and their timing. Finally, methods used to evaluate the cost effectiveness of implementing a fixed-route system in Jamestown are discussed.
A five-page survey was developed by the research team and the James River Transit Center. It will be described in this section (Copy of survey in Appendix A). James River Transit tried to survey as many of its current riders as possible. The research team conducted a drawing for 'Buffalo Bucks,' which can be used to purchase goods and services at select businesses within the city limits of Jamestown, for anyone who completed the survey. The prizes consisted of two $50 buffalo bucks prizes, two $25 buffalo bucks prizes, and two $10 buffalo bucks prizes. Respondents who wanted to be considered for the drawing had to provide their name and contact information on the finished survey, but had the option of not providing their contact information to the research team. Therefore, respondents had the right to remain anonymous if they felt it was necessary to do so.
The survey contained 21 questions. Questions dealt with respondents' current usage of James River Transit, rider travel patterns, and how they felt about the current service. Further questions asked respondents to indicate their views towards a new fixed-route system which would compliment, not eliminate, the already existing paratransit service. Demographic information comprised questions fifteen through nineteen of the survey. The final two questions were designed to be open-ended to solicit suggestions for improving the current James River Transit service and to learn what riders like best about James River Transit.
Many of the questions included a "check all that apply" option. For example, respondents were asked about the kinds of transportation they used. Options included taking the bus, rides from family and friends, and taxi. The "check all that apply" option provided the research team with a better understanding of all the transportation options available to perspective riders.
Focus group meetings were held March 3, 2004. Feedback from James River Transit riders obtained during the focus group meetings were given considerable attention when fixed-route scheduling and timing were developed. The goal of the focus group meetings was to gain first-hand knowledge of the day-to-day operations of James River Transit.
Two separate meetings were held March 3 to provide flexibility for attendees. The turnout of riders was favorable, and they did a good job of representing the ridership as a whole, according to the James River Transit Center's executive director, Carol Wright. Everyone attending the focus group meetings filled out the above-mentioned survey, and all were given the opportunity to voice their opinions, either favorable or unfavorable, towards the James River Transit Center.
Most attendees voiced overall satisfaction with James River Transit. The drivers were given praise time and again for the kindness and helpfulness they provide for all riders. A select few indicated they felt the rates were too high and that if they were increased, a dramatic decrease in ridership would occur. It was explained to attendees that the current paratransit rate of $2.50/ride was very reasonable compared to other communities offering the same service. Also, the research team, along with Executive Director Carol Wright, stated numerous times that the addition of a fixed-route system would provide an additional service to riders and potential riders at a reduced cost to the present paratransit service. This statement was met with mixed responses by attendees.
The research team, based on findings from the focus group meetings, emphasized the need for a rigorous training effort on the part of James River Transit to successfully implement a fixed-route system. James River Transit agreed that some type of rider-training effort would have to be undertaken. Overall, the focus group meetings were a success and served their intended purpose of familiarizing the research team with the problem at hand.
GIS has the ability to model and refine bus routing networks and control quality-of-information flow among various models. This fits perfectly with the needs of the research team in determining optimal fixed routes for James River Transit and their timing. In order to model the bus route flow more accurately, an average route speed of 12 miles per hour was used on all applicable routes. Although all speed limits on routes fell between 25 and 40 miles per hour, using 12 miles per hour as the benchmark allowed time for stops and the loading and unloading of riders who might be traveling with the aid of a wheelchair or other travel aid.
ArcView Network Analyst was the GIS software used to analyze potential James River Transit fixed routes. Network Analyst utilizes Dijkstra's Algorithm to solve the problem of finding the shortest path from a point (the source) to a destination. Dijkstra's Algorithm is often referred to as the single-source shortest path algorithm. A simplified mathematical formulation is represented below as explained in (Taylor 2002).
Assume the James River road system is represented as G below. Given this, the formulation can be stated as:
G = (V,E) where
Dijkstra's algorithm keeps two sets of vertices:
The other data structures needed are:
The basic mode of operation is:
The relaxation process updates the costs of all the vertices, v, connected to a vertex, u, if one could improve the best estimate of the shortest path to v by including (u, v) in the path to v.
Numerous hypothetical routes were evaluated to determine an optimal fixed-route system for James River Transit. The first step in the route design was to determine riders' residential addresses. Next, frequent stop locations for the present paratransit system were needed to determine a feasible fixed-route. Both rider addresses and present stop locations were obtained and geocoded in the Jamestown street map using ArcView. Geocoding, also known as address matching, is the process of creating geometric representations for descriptions of locations. A geocoding service defines the process for converting these descriptions into geometric shapes. A geocoding service can be used to find individual addresses and to geocode tables of addresses. Existing addresses that have already been converted into geometric shapes may also be reviewed and rematched to more efficiently represent available data.
Representing real-life situations through computer simulation allowed the research team to see James River Transit's situation from a different perspective. Using computer simulations to represent real-world situations have shortfalls, but the accuracy with respect to Jamestown and James River Transit's needs was proficient.
Evaluating the implementation of the fixed-route system involved determining a suitable cost structure for the new system and also evaluating its effect on the existing paratransit system. The proposed cost structure was based largely on a comparison between James River Transit and other transit agencies. A wide variety of transit systems were used in this comparison. Fargo, ND, Minot, ND, and Hibbing, MN, are three transit agencies representing various sizes and complexities whose present fixed-route and paratransit systems were analyzed. Developing funding sources for the fixed-route system was another issue that was addressed. Local businesses and employers who would benefit from the service were thought to be the main funding sources from which to draw additional financial support.
The largest obstacle to overcome with respect to the fixed-route system running alongside the paratransit system was the initial confusion that potential and current riders may face. Passenger training was again suggested as necessary for riders to understand the similarities and differences between the two systems and how they will coexist. Training could consist of sessions held by James River Transit explaining the fixed-route system and how it will work incorporating real-life examples (ie. A rider boards the bus at the senior center and wants to travel to Walmart). The steps necessary for the rider would then be explained to familiarize riders with the route functioning. Also, having attendants at bus stops during the first couple days of fixed-route service answering rider questions and explaining the route more thoroughly at individual stops would be helpful. James River Transit's willingness to change the coloring and/or markings of buses to distinguish between fixed-route and paratransit vehicles will give the riders the ability to distinguish between the two services quite easily as well.