Most companies around the globe have had to adapt their operations because of the worldwide pandemic and TripSpark partner, Lethbridge Transit, was no exception. We worked with Jeff Gillette, GIS/Applications Specialist for Lethbridge Transit and his team to modify their service due to an unprecedented decline in ridership because of COVID-19, and social distancing requirements. In this post, he talks about how they replaced their fixed route service with an on-demand service that helped ensure riders could safely make essential trips.
Here’s what happened
Earlier this year, it was business as usual for Lethbridge Transit – averaging 11,000 riders per day, until COVID-19 hit the scene.
Ridership immediately plummeted by 90%, so they pivoted to a holiday schedule – operating during the same hours with fewer buses. By mid-March, they had to switch to back-door boarding, offering free rides to improve accessibility and reduce contact with drivers. People then began using the bus for warm shelter, or simply went for rides out of sheer boredom. This caused a problem – those travelling for essential needs and services (groceries, doctor visits) were legitimately concerned with the lack of social distancing.
Change was needed
Lethbridge Transit realized they needed to take a different approach to ensure public transit would be safe and viable for those travelling for essential needs and services. Being an existing TripSpark customer, they were already familiar with our demand-response software, so they opted to implement a microtransit-type service model using their full-sized fixed route busses.
“By using Novus and the Ranger, drivers are already familiar with the hardware, and many of our staff are familiar with the software.” – Jeff Gillette
Implementing a microtransit service model
Execution was nearly effortless as they were able to import all their fixed route stops as pickup or drop-off locations into the demand-response software. This was all done remotely, with TripSpark’s help, within 30 minutes. Had they input the data from scratch, Jeff estimated it would have taken them a week.
The most important thing for the team at Lethbridge Transit was to provide safe and reliable transit service for those who needed it. By setting their maximum passenger occupancy in Novus, they were able to control ridership and ensure that threshold was not exceeded.
“We just needed to make sure that were providing a service for those who needed it, providing it safely and being able to space people out, and making it reliable. Transit before the pandemic was a lot different, we used to just pack people on the bus.” – Jeff Gillette
Post-implementation – how are things going?
Initially, Lethbridge Transit’s call center was very busy with incoming calls from riders booking rides. An online form has helped reduce the number of inbound calls which will be further reduced once they implement another instance of TripSpark’s online booking system - Passenger Portal (which they have been using for their paratransit service for years). For now, riders simply fill out the form to book their weekly and/or one-time essential trip(s) between existing bus stops, and Lethbridge Transit staff takes care of the rest. Riders requiring regular travel (e.g. travelling to and from work, Monday - Friday) can book their rides as a subscription, rather than booking each one individually, saving the rider time, and minimizing work for Lethbridge Transit staff.
By implementing Rides by Reservation using TripSpark’s demand-response software, Lethbridge Transit has been able to facilitate social distancing by ensuring a bus has no more than 14 passengers. Riders now feel safer and since they are on one bus for the entirety of their journey, many of them experience shorter travel times than when they made the same trip previously using fixed route service. Things have been going very smoothly with the impromptu new service and Lethbridge Transit expects ride requests to increase to 600 trips per day once they begin to open to non-essential travel.
“The main win was control of ridership – we knew who was getting in, we can control the number of people on the bus and if needed we added more buses.” – Jeff Gillette
Our upcoming Rides on Demand App can help your agency cope with challenges you are currently facing such as dwindling ridership, growing catchment areas and ever-increasing rider expectations. Rides on Demand will give your riders mobility options by providing on-demand, microtransit service, that sits between fixed route transit and more individual transportation options. The app (available on Google Play and the Apple App Store) will enable your agency to offer flexible service with automated scheduling using the same Novus or PASS software you trust for your paratransit services. Riders will be able to self-register and book their own trips that are scheduled using the existing on-demand functionality that can be set up with our Novus software.
As we cautiously look toward our upcoming reality, once the pandemic calms down, we are here to help you prepare for the new normal. We are glad we had the opportunity to work with Lethbridge Transit and support them in adapting their service through this uncertain time.