STEUBENVILLE - The elephant in the room was hauled away by a bus Tuesday, as the Regional Access Mobility Partnership moved closer than ever toward using common transit scheduling software among public and human service ride providers in the Brooke, Hancock and Jefferson County areas.
The keys to implementing the scheduling system are low cost and autonomy to avoid possible funding and operational disagreements, while letting agencies begin to see patterns among their riders.
When the various transportation providers began meeting more than 18 months ago, one question that loomed over the group was how to share costs and work out agreements on sharing passengers through a one-size-fits-all agreement. The human services providers have varying regulations on who is eligible for transportation under their various service grants, meaning one agency might not be able to share a ride with another. The effort had progressed toward buying software, but until recently it was not known how the agencies could cooperate with one another under their individual requirements.
As envisioned now, the agencies will be asked to agree to start using the scheduling software. Ride sharing among them would be up to interagency agreements as determined by the agencies themselves, not an agreement covering all the agencies at the same time.
At the same time, the idea of implementing a single-point call center or mobility manager was pushed out to being a long range goal, rather than a requirement to start using the software.
A combination of federal stimulus money being spent by Steel Valley Regional Transit Authority will cover various costs, as well as a split of the cost for buying the software and the system design and review document between SVRTA and Weirton Transit Corp. allowed the scheduling system to progress to potential installation and use.
Frank Bovina, Steel Valley Regional Transit Corp. manager, and Mike Paprocki, Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission transportation director, explained that other than the cost of buying a license for using the software, as well as contributing to annual maintenance costs, the agencies will face no major changes. They would commit to helping form the database of local transportation users and, through use of the scheduling software, might see ways to begin sharing rides among services in the future.
"You don't have to give up administration or financial control. No one is asking you to do that," Bovina said. "We're not creating a monster organization."
A central dispatch and central call point would remain long-range goals, Paprocki said.
Bovina said even the cost of the annual maintenance, estimated at $12,327, which covers software provider TranSched updating its programming, could be reduced.
He said the cost could be covered under federal transit operating grants for the public transit agencies, meaning only the local share, some 20 percent, would have to be paid, and that would be split among the scheduling system's users.
As envisioned, SVRTA will pay $12,790 in costs to Jefferson County to allow the county to host the server and the database software. SVRTA could join a planned county fiber optic network, which would include lines running to the Department of Job and Family Services building next door to the downtown SVRTA offices and garages.
West Virginia users of the TranSched system would connect via an Internet connection.
Users could choose to pay for any customization to add to their own individual software packages, such as GPS or vehicle tracking. The basic scheduling software would be covered in the initial investment.
Bovina said as the scheduling system is used, the agencies will spot opportunities to make it worthwhile to pursue sharing agreements among themselves.
"One person on a van costs a whole lot more than 10 people on a van. Hopefully, this will allow us to better serve the public in the local area. This is the mechanism. Funding is being squeezed in a lot of different areas. The more we can help each other out, the more people we can help take advantage of all our services," he said.
SVRTA and Weirton Transit have agreed to pay $7,650 each for the TranSched services that went into the design for the scheduling system, as well as another $29,135 each to cover the purchase of the scheduling software.
SVRTA and WTC each will start with five software licenses and can work out selling them to user agencies. Up to 25 user licenses can be obtained for the system, including the potential for multiple installations in one user agency.
The group set a goal of having interagency commitment agreements reviewed by individual agencies and ready to implement within 90 days.
R.A.M.P. will meet again on April 26.
(Giannamore can be contacted at email@example.com.)