NJ TRANSIT streamlines paratransit reservations and fare collection with web-based solutions

Through technological advancements and the advent of social media, consumer expectations are at an all-time high. Consumers have become independent in information gathering and don’t want to have to wait to get their answers. It shouldn’t be surprising that transit passengers expect the same level of service and instant gratification. In the transit world, this means they want online trip booking, real-time information, and electronic payments. On the rare occasion when passengers do have to call in, they don’t want to wait to talk to someone.

NJ TRANSIT’s Access Link was launched in 1993 to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and has since grown into a very popular paratransit service. Since then, NJ TRANSIT has experimented with different ways to keep customer satisfaction high and give their passengers the tools they need to book trips and find the information they need quickly.

Ten years ago, NJ TRANSIT implemented an email reservation pilot for their paratransit operations because their phone operators were challenged by the high call volume. To implement this email reservation system, passengers provided details of their travel needs on a digital form, which automatically emailed data to the agency. Then, a reservationist entered the trip information into Trapeze PASS, the paratransit scheduling and dispatching solution from Trapeze Group, and emailed back a confirmation to their passengers at the end of the day.

The program quickly grew in popularity. As of 2019, NJ TRANSIT accommodates approximately 12,000 email reservations per month. With that many email reservations coming in, they had two to four designated staff members per day to process all these requests. As the email volume increased, staff found themselves spending more time entering reservations into the software than interacting with customers on the phone.

“Some phone customers had to wait for literally 30 minutes because there were so many emailed reservations,” said Shiva Nagarajah, manager of ADA systems and support at NJ TRANSIT. “In many cases, some people simply wanted to cancel or check the status of an existing trip.”

“Customer satisfaction is paramount at NJ TRANSIT,” Nagarajah said, “so agency managers knew a streamlined solution was required. Dealing with 12,000 emails per month was not sustainable, and managers wanted to get reservationists back on the phones dealing with passengers that needed immediate assistance.”

The customers, in various community feedback forums, requested online service (trip booking and electronic fare) regularly. The email system was one way to accomplish the trip booking. But, with its rise in popularity, NJ TRANSIT knew they needed to expedite the process to get more people back on the phones and lower the hold time.

PASS-WEB and EZ-Wallet

Working with Trapeze Group, NJ TRANSIT completed an upgrade of the Trapeze PASS software — and is now able to take advantage of the online-booking features associated with the PASS-Web feature. The agency also implemented EZ-Wallet, a cashless faring solution where passengers can pre-pay their fares, to fulfill the longstanding request of its passengers for electronic fares. With these two features working cohesively, NJ TRANSIT launched a user acceptance group and pilot program in October 2018 to test the features, track passenger feedback, and decrease the need for email reservations, improving the overall customer experience.

Since implementing the solution, Nagarajah said that average hold times on the toll-free phone line have dropped to less than three minutes. Because of the thousands of riders now booking trips online through the PASS-Web services, NJ TRANSIT has reduced the daily need for reservationist down to one to two staff members, enabling them to go back onto the phones.

Other benefits to NJ TRANSIT include less cash handling by employees and trip fare collection occurring during the booking process, ensuring increased fare collection security and increased revenue. Furthermore, riders can now log into PASS-Web and receive real-time updates on the arrival of their NJ TRANSIT bus.

Passenger feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Nagarajah said.

“Our riders are fascinated by the new technology,” he said. “We have not had passengers lose trips or complain about the booking system, so the product has definitely worked as intended.”

To contact NJ TRANSIT and learn more about how they use this system, send an email to aces@njtransit.com.