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Statewide efforts can make life better for riders and lower costs for agencies, especially in smaller cities
Local transit agencies are responsible for running the buses and trains, and the federal government is a critical source of funding. But there’s a knowledge gap in public transit, particularly for resource-starved small and mid-sized agencies. States can help fill that “missing middle.”
It’s difficult for many agencies to improve the customer experience. Some agencies struggle to develop and maintain expertise, while others have difficulty affording significant technological upgrades. This is where state-level coordination can have the biggest positive impact.
We’ll look at four examples, in California, Minnesota, Ohio, and Vermont, of state-level initiatives that simplify the procurement process, provide technical assistance, and make it easier for agencies to focus on delivering high-quality transit service.
Facilitate procurementSmaller procurements often result in fewer responses from vendors and higher costs, while taking just as long as projects at larger agencies. Master services agreements and joint procurement reduce overhead and help agencies secure more favourable terms when purchasing hardware and software services.
Provide technical assistanceKeeping up-to-date with the industry is a full-time job. States can help agencies make the best decisions in the current environment by identifying best practices for quickly-evolving offerings like on-demand services, payments, and mobile applications.
Unify marketing and brandingInitiatives like EZfare and Go! Vermont provide standardized marketing resources that local agencies can customize to promote mobile ticketing and trip planning options. Each agency no longer needs to reinvent the wheel when communicating with riders.
Promote industry standardsStandards like GTFS and GTFS-realtime help lower barriers to providing service information, reduce vendor lock-in, and make it easier for service information to be widely distributed.
The California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP) is an initiative of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). It was launched in 2018 to eliminate barriers for transit riders, reduce expenses for agencies, and improve service statewide through:
Through ongoing outreach and technical assistance to transit agencies, as well as a series of market consultations to solicit input from the private sector, Cal-ITP has been able to foster industry standards, facilitate the procurement process, reduce the burden on individual agencies, and improve the rider experience.
NEORide is an Ohio-based council of governments for transit agencies across Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Arkansas that promotes innovative technology projects. Seeking to establish a payments system that could be easily used across multiple transit agencies and reduce costs for smaller operators, NEORide launched EZfare, a joint procurement for mobile ticketing in 2018. Initially covering five agencies, EZfare has since grown to include 14 systems across Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan.
Riders can make EZfare purchases in multiple apps, and agencies are free to promote or partner with their preferred app. EZfare participants including SORTA in Cincinnati, TANK in Northern Kentucky, and RTA in Cleveland promote Transit as their official app for trip planning and fare payment.
EZfare, which selected Masabi as its fare payments partner, has expanded to include onboard validation hardware, stored value, and cash loading at retail stores. Onboard hardware was paid for through grants awarded to NEORide from the Ohio Department of Transportation and an Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) grant from the Federal Transit Administration.Future plans for EZfare include account-based ticketing, fare capping, and EMV cards. NEORide has already begun work on its next project: EZConnect will be a unified online and phone portal for riders across multiple agencies to request paratransit and microtransit trips.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has launched a Mobility-as-a-Service project to help residents in rural areas, and not just urban cores, seamlessly plan, book and pay for multimodal trips.
MnDOT selected Cambridge Systematics to lead the effort, which is working with Transit, Token Transit, and Trillium to deliver customer experience upgrades that might otherwise be difficult for small agencies to procure individually:
The project, managed by MnDOT in partnership with Minnesota IT Services, brings together two related projects: the Southern Minnesota MaaS project, funded by a Federal Transit Administration Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) Grant, and the Western Minnesota Contactless Payment project, funded by a COVID-19 Research Grant.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) launched its Go! Vermont initiative to bring together resources and programs supporting green modes of transportation, including the Guaranteed Ride Home program, vanpool/carpool programs, event or single-trip ride matching, and public transit service from the seven transit agencies covering the entire state.
As part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility-on-Demand Sandbox Program in 2016, VTrans launched a web-based multimodal trip planner that included GTFS-flex data for rural on-demand transit services statewide.
Since then, VTrans has also been responsible for ensuring the ubiquitous provision of real-time bus tracking data through a statewide procurement. VTrans also partnered with Transit as its official app for fixed-route services across Vermont starting in 2019, and added intercity bus routes to the app two years later. It’s been a hit: today, 60 percent of Green Mountain Transit passengers open Transit to track their bus, and VTrans now offers Transit Royale in the app for all Vermont riders.
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