Avail has really come a long way, and we are so happy that there is no going back to the ‘dark ages'. Reporting, in particular, has dramatically improved.James Bunn
The Rapid Improves Service Fast with Avail
The Interurban Transit Partnership in Grand Rapids, Michigan, better known as The Rapid, has been serving the public transportation needs of its 185-square mile service area since its formation in 2000. The award-winning organization operates approximately 250 vehicles on 28 fixed routes, the Silver Line BRT, ADA paratransit and other demand-response and vanpool services. In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Rapid provided more than 10 million passenger trips.
Successfully providing all of these services every day requires the management and operation of a “tight ship.” Everyone at The Rapid needs to be rowing in unison in the same direction. It also requires the selection and implementation of precisely the right equipment, tools, and technology.
When the management of The Rapid recently recognized a need to optimize their fixed-route running times, enhance the management of daily pull-outs, and reassess the efficiency of bus stop spacing, they suspected that what they needed was an infusion of new technology. They needed to get a better handle on their operational data to assist in making more informed decisions. After partnering with Avail Technologies to implement their Business Intelligence Reporting, they learned that their suspicions were correct, especially when they achieved on-time performance as high as 98 percent.
Letting the Data do the Driving
Of course, The Rapid’s bus operators do the literal driving, but when the agency implemented Avail’s suite of solutions, their data started taking over the management steering wheel.
“Avail has really come a long way, and we are so happy that there is no going back to the ‘dark ages’,” said James Bunn, Technical Systems Administrator for The Rapid. “Reporting, in particular, has dramatically improved,” he added.
Bunn cautions, however, that it’s important to recognize that you have to have someone on your team to take the time on a daily basis to use the Avail tools. “It is a critical factor to The Rapid’s success in implementing the Avail solutions and monitoring the data every day.” Bunn said that they have an individual in their planning department whose primary responsibility is to review and interpret the Avail reports daily, and assist operations and management in making any necessary adjustments, even some that are made on the fly.
James Nguyen, Transit Manager for The Rapid, added that prior to the Avail partnership, The Rapid relied very heavily on input from the bus operators, which can be subject to each operator’s own interpretation. He said, “You can never take the drivers out of your scheduling dynamic, of course, but these reports now provide hard data to help us shift route timing to keep running on time, with less reliance on the input from the operators.”
The Rapid uses the data from the Avail reports to:
- Proactively analyze and improve running times;
- Fine-tune which time points need to be shifted to another stop, ensuring there is a safe place to wait if the operators arrive a little early; and
- Optimize stop locations and spacing, reducing some stop density where appropriate, to maintain timely and convenient service.
An especially useful tool for The Rapid team is the Avail Schedule Health Report. According to Bunn, “The Schedule Health reporting is great for identifying areas for improvement, even implementing relatively immediate enhancements to our service and achieving very high on-time performance.”
Making The Rapid Team More Efficient
Like all transit agencies, it requires an entire team of professionals to maximize efficiency, and The Rapid has learned that the Avail solutions make that teamwork significantly more efficient. For example:
- Operators use the Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) to monitor their own on-time performance (OTP).
- Dispatchers use the new myAvail Pullout Management tool to ensure vehicles leave the garage on time each day, and they monitor OTP using the myAvail status tab.
- The planning department proactively monitors daily reports to suggest operational improvements, then they monitor those improvements after implementation.
“It’s a team effort, and everyone has to do their part: operators, dispatchers, supervisors, planners, schedulers,” said Bunn. “Success for The Rapid depends on dedicating the time necessary to review the data and make improvements. We also need to maintain an environment that fosters flexibility to make changes on the fly and constantly look for improvements.”
OTP as High as 98%
Thanks to The Rapid’s efficient use of all the Avail data and reporting, the agency has experienced a dramatic improvement in OTP systemwide.
According to Nguyen, it all starts, as you might expect, at the beginning of the service day. “It’s so important to get started on a good note, so having the dispatchers monitoring the Pullout Management tool gets everything off and rolling on time,” which sets the stage for excellent OTP for the entire day. “It was very difficult for us to monitor that before we had Avail,” said Nguyen.
From a route optimization standpoint, The Rapid is now able to use their data to adjust bus stop spacing to be closer to an average of one-quarter of a mile between stops. “We used to have stops maybe 200 to 215 yards apart, which was a very high stop frequency,” said Bunn. “Now we have the data to support better stop spacing. We are keeping the stops that experience heavy concentrations of passengers, but we are working steadily toward reducing the frequency of stops, to keep our routes moving on time. It’s critical to have solid data, especially when you are working to eliminate a stop.”
The Rapid is even implementing variable connection times within their routing. According to Bunn, “We were reluctant to use variable times in our schedules, but now that we have the data to support these adjustments we feel a lot more confident about implementing variability to maintain higher on-time performance during certain times of the day.”
The Rapid is deploying all of its resources more efficiently, which ultimately results in better performance, including consistently achieving OTP of 90 to 95 percent. On a recent Saturday, The Rapid even operated at an amazing 98 percent on time.
With such positive results, the team at The Rapid is confident that they will continue to make the best data-driven decisions and continue to improve their service to the community.