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Want to compare paratransit software? Ask these 3 questions.

A guide to finding the best technology provider to support your ADA paratransit or dial-a-ride service.

Via Transportation •
Originally published July 15, 2021. Updated December 27, 2023.

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A search for paratransit software is no easy task. TransitTech is never one-size-fits-all and that rings especially true when providing service to people with disabilities. But with the current paratransit software market, you’re expected to distinguish between software suites that all promise to accomplish the same goals — cutting costs, increasing efficiency, and improving rider experience. How can you know which is the right fit — and which software company can work with your team as a long-term strategic partner rather than a vendor?

The answer lies in asking yourself and your team a few questions at the start of your journey to make your job easier in the long run.

With the guide below, you’ll be able to take what you know — i.e. the specific requirements and goals you have for your service — and flip it into what you should be asking of your software provider. 

1. How will you manage costs while providing the right level of service?

Paratransit providers face a range of regulatory requirements in the United States, including those mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and varying local guidelines. Before starting a software search, it’s important to determine the relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that will ensure your service stays compliant. 

Depending on your specific (and potentially evolving) needs, you likely need a software suite that lets you customize the parameters of its routing and dispatching algorithm to balance cost, quality of service and compliance goals. Ask potential providers about the degree of customization permissible within their algorithms, and how specific algorithm adjustments have helped comparable transit agencies achieve their goals.

To make sure you'll get top-quality support throughout the initial customization process (and for algorithm adjustments down the line), ask whether your software provider has in-house paratransit operations experts available to advise. The best software is built by and for operators, who have an insider's understanding of the nuances of paratransit service.  A paratransit dispatcher uses software to manage operations. These days, paratransit software typically includes a full suite of administrative, driver, and rider products. To achieve the right balance of efficiency and quality of service, look for the following qualities: 

    1. Demonstrated track record in improving utilization. It is important to choose a technology that allows you to publish the optimal shift schedule and optimize the runs the day before, but also make adjustments during day-of service to balance fleet productivity and quality of service. Ask your provider to offer evidence not only that they accommodate this flexibly, but that their software has led to demonstrable improvements in utilization for comparable transit agencies. 
    2. Driver app that displays all routing and pickup/drop-off information with real-time trip updates, traffic info, and an offline manifest. The right tools for your drivers can keep them nimble — picking up new passengers if necessary, avoiding traffic jams — and resilient, even in areas of low cell connectivity. 
    3. Rider app with booking information, real-time vehicle tracking, and an intuitive interface. A good rider app, one that lets riders and/or caregivers can easily book, manage, and monitor trips, not only contributes a great rider experience but reduces strain on your call center from "where's my ride?" calls. The app should complement, rather than replace, traditional call-in booking methods, but be rider-friendly enough to initiate a gradual shift to more and more app-based bookings. 
    4. Administrative dashboard for reservationists to book trips, and dispatchers to monitor service operations and plan for the days ahead. This tool should let users toggle easily between interfaces for trip booking, rider profiles and schedules, and live trip monitoring.
    5. The right level of automation for your team's workflow. Look for software that can automatically detect if a ride is running late and reassign the ride to a new driver — but also for software that lets you customize how much automated intervention you'd like your algorithm to deliver. Automation should assist, rather than override, human dispatchers; look for software that offers algorithm-driven types of reassignment options, for example, alongside manual intervention options if necessary. 
A group of people with disabilities wait for paratransit rides. One passenger holds a phone, having just booked a trip with a mobile app.

2. How will you best cater to different customer needs?

As you probably know better than anyone, paratransit riders are not a monolith. To that end, in order to run a successful paratransit service, you’ll need to support varying customer needs. 

In the vast majority of cases, paratransit providers take bookings by phone — staffing a call center in order to do so. Strong paratransit software usually comes with a smartphone application, enabling a new option for riders and/or their caregivers to book trips. But while a call center is an essential resource for paratransit riders and an app can bring ease to the process for some, you may want to consider providers that engage with a broader spectrum of communication channels to serve a more diverse ridership. 

Examples of these other modes include automated calls, interactive voice response (IVR), SMS, and app-based push notifications — all of which a software provider should be able to support, in addition to a standard smartphone app and live dispatchers. These communication channels should be utilized for both booking and trip reminders, so riders don’t need to worry about forgetting when their pickup is.

Paratransit riders also commonly need to book recurring rides (e.g. for regular doctor’s appointments) as opposed to just one-off trips. Some may need transportation in wheelchair accessible vehicles, while others may not, and paratransit riders may have personal care attendants (PCAs) accompanying them on all trips. 

In order to accommodate these variations in rider preferences and needs, you’ll want to look for a software that supports detailed rider profiles. These profiles can indicate favorite locations, if a rider always has a +1, and recurring ride schedules.

In addition, modern paratransit services need to accommodate a range of payment preferences that do not only rely on riders and PCAs having exact change for each trip. Your software provider should easily support multiple payment types, including card, cash, and vouchers.

After accomplishing all of the above, you’ll want to verify that the software provider is meeting the needs and expectations of your riders. This is where in-app service ratings and comments come in handy — providing an efficient and data-based pulse check on quality of service and customer satisfaction, while helping to quickly identify any lingering pain points.  

3. How will you measure success?

There are many ways to evaluate the success of a paratransit service — we’ve categorized the concerns we’ve seen most frequently among our paratransit partners, and the tech that helps to address each.

A) Service metrics.

Think about all of the quantitative metrics you care about: Utilization, on-time performance, trip volume, call volume...the list (probably) goes on. Accurate and comprehensive data is key to staying on top of all of these KPIs and more — ensuring your service is ADA compliant and as efficient as possible. To keep tabs on the metrics that matter to you, look for a platform that is always collecting data and makes it simple for managers and key stakeholders to analyze performance with streamlined dashboards. A reporting suite should allow day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and real time tracking of operational performance metrics.  

B) Rider satisfaction.

Not everything can be captured through data. Rider input and qualitative feedback can let you know exactly what’s working and what isn’t, allowing you to make thoughtful, informed improvements to your service over time. That’s why you’ll need a partner that has developed expertise in community engagement practices that yield strong service awareness and valuable rider insights. With this level of on-the-ground experience, your technology partner can help you work out the kind of feedback you want to receive and how you will aggregate and analyze it to determine the right next steps. 

C) Cost savings.

If your search for a new software provider is motivated by a desire to cut costs through efficiency gains, you should be seeing these benefits in several places. Firstly, you’ll want to make sure your software’s algorithm can optimize the ride plan as new trip requests come in, rearranging rides within quality of service constraints to improve efficiency wherever possible. Secondly, by encouraging riders with smartphones and/or their caregivers to manage their bookings through the app, you should see a markedly reduced workload for your call center. And thirdly, smart, targeted automation will free up time for your planning and dispatching staff and allow them to focus on value-add tasks.

A schematic of Via's paratransit software suite, showing three trips as they appear in the Ride Plan module and several pending pickups as they're seen in the map-based Hub module.

Finally, a consolidation of multiple transit services into one platform can provide efficiencies to all stakeholders, including drivers, dispatchers, administrators, and riders — with or without commingling. Even if you don’t plan on integrating services immediately, contracting with a provider who has this capability can make your job much easier in the long-term.

And that’s it! You’re now armed with all of the information you need to get the most out of your next conversation with a paratransit software provider. 

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