By Robert E. Dunlavey
It certainly was an honor to be recognized as the 2010 Outstanding Paratransit Program by the California Association of Coordinated Transportation (CalACT) this past April in San Francisco. Like so many success stories, the lessons we learned along the way, coupled with the hard work and focused determination of so many people, made winning this award a sweet victory for all of us.
Five years ago Santa Rosa Paratransit was in bad shape. We had a reputation as an unreliable, non-responsive service. Our client’s issues and needs went ignored, which left our community rightfully dissatisfied. The problems stemmed from a complete lack of accountability anywhere in the system. Instead there was just a lot of blaming and finger pointing.
Following a thorough, professional analysis of our program, we created a list of recommendations and developed a plan for implementing every recommendation. Over the next five years, the Santa Rosa Paratransit staff, contractors and clients worked diligently to improve all aspects of our service.
“We congratulate Santa Rosa Paratransit for taking on the challenge of system-wide upgrades,” says Janet Spilman, deputy of planning and public outreach, Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “Especially for striving to achieve and maintain a high level of quality service delivery that is a local asset.”
To improve the reliability and accountability of our operations we upgraded our technology and our paratransit vehicles. Specific upgrades included Trapeze scheduling software, which greatly improved our productivity and reliability. Prior to installation, we took reservations on slips of paper, which resulted in a chaotic error-ridden scheduling process.
“The most spectacular project in this program was our insistence on upgrading the reservation and routing procedure,” says T. J. O’Leary of the Paratransit Users’ Group. “Today on-time performance statistics are almost 99 percent. And we haven’t heard about a missed bus ride in years.”
We upgraded the phone system. Now we can record all conversations between our clients and schedulers, which has worked very well to enhance accountability on both sides.
We installed Mentor Ranger Mobil Data Terminals and Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) systems to link with Trapeze and further improve productivity, reliability and accountability.
As of May 2010 our fleet features all new vehicles that include upgraded sedans and accessible mini-vans.
We replaced a standard Type 7 cutaway bus with the Arboc low-floor type G bus for our flexible fixed route service in our Oakmont Senior Community. This service allows Santa Rosa Paratransit clients to schedule fixed route deviations to their homes for shopping trips or travel within the Oakmont Community. Since implementing this service in 2008, we are making between 40 and 50 deviations each month. In the past these trips would have likely been the more expensive paratransit trips.
Finally, we installed a new mobile Transit Information Center in our downtown Santa Rosa Transit Mall, which provides fixed route information and assistance to all of our riders, including our paratransit clients. This gives everyone a sense of safety and security.
To further improve safety and security in our paratransit system, we installed emission reduction devices, which reduced particulate matter emissions by 40 percent (compared to 2005 levels) and Nitrous Oxide (NOx) by 3.2 g/bhp-hr. These steps are improving air quality, which is important to the health and safety of our clients and the entire community. The installation of the AVL system with GPS units gives us the ability to track the location of all our vehicles and passengers at all times. Further, we installed five Mobile View IV video cameras on every paratransit vehicle and record all of the daily activities. This increased security has greatly reduced the city’s risk exposure. We also installed G-force activated DriveCam cameras and recorders, which has resulted in improved safe driving statistics across our program.
To achieve and maintain this high level of quality service, and to insure our paratransit service is not over taxed by people who truly were capable of utilizing fixed-route bus service for some if not all of their trips, we implemented a Functional Testing Program. We conducted an extensive community outreach program to ease the concerns of our paratransit clients about such an evaluation. Members of our Paratransit Users’ Group and Santa Rosa City Council participated in these evaluations to ensure they were not only adequate in addressing the individuals level of need for Paratransit service, but to confirm the evaluations were conducted in a respectful manner.
Since implementing our new Eligibility Testing Program in July 2007, it has become one of our city’s primary ways to preserve our ability to deliver the highest quality service to our paratransit clientele. We also conduct the evaluations in our new Transit Operation Building, thereby eliminating any overhead costs associated with a remote assessment site.
We began meeting on a monthly basis with regional agencies to coordinate individual paratransit program guidelines, transfer opportunities and to resolve issues common to everyone.
The goal was to evaluate and improve the level of service currently available to the elderly and disabled within our region. This coordination has proven invaluable. One area of joint concern is Mobility Management Options.
This summer Santa Rosa Paratransit program manager Michael Ivory attended the Senior Transportation Institute in Washington D.C. along with Adult and Aging Services staff members and two elected officials. We will continue such cooperation and work between agencies to identify issues and develop and implement solutions.
“Over the past three years, Santa Rosa CityBus/Paratransit has demonstrated its commitment to improve transit service to seniors and people with disabilities,” says planner Ginny Doyle, Area Agency on Aging. “System changes have significantly improved service for our clients.”
We have invested a great deal of time, energy and resources to improve our system. Our ridership has stabilized the quality of our service and our reliability has significantly improved.
Our staff has worked to continue strengthening our relationship with our disabled community by facilitating community involvement and education through our Paratransit Users’ Group (PUG), interactive travel training seminars, and the development and publication of educational materials. Involving representatives from our disabled community in the process of recommending, understanding and contributing to the programs and processes has given us a vital two-way forum for communication with our paratransit clientele.
The public perception of our Santa Rosa Paratransit system has significantly improved through our concrete investments and strengthened relationships with the senior and disabled community. Today, Santa Rosa Paratransit commands respect for its notable achievements all completed in a short period of time and during a time of dwindling financial resources.
Robert E. Dunlavey serves as Director of the Transit Department for the City of Santa Rosa, CA.