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April 8, 2021

4 Ways to Modernise Dial-a-Ride Services

With an outdated servicing model, dial-a-ride is due for an update to its transit operations.

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With an outdated servicing model, dial-a-ride is due for an update to its transit operations.

Dial-a-ride has historically serviced a problem in the community of allowing equal and adequate access to public transit for those with accessibility needs. While it has played a significant role in meeting the basic requirements of such a service, it still has a way to go in terms of offering reliable scheduling and reasonable transit windows.

What is dial-a-ride?

Dial-a-ride is another handy term for the model we’ve come to know as paratransit. It's also referred to as ‘community transport’, as an alternative transport service for those with accessibility needs. It’s a flexible and customised transit experience available to members of the community who are unable to utilise the fixed-route or traditional Public Transport services.

Dial-a-ride is an important community service, delivering an affordable transit option to those with disabilities by combining ridesharing with Public Transport.  If you haven’t had a chance to engage with our posts on what paratransit entails, here’s a brief outline for you.

What are the issues with the current dial-a-ride model?

At present, dial-a-ride is lacking when it comes to adaptability. While other transit options, such as microtransit, have evolved to meet advancements in technology, in its current state, dial-a-ride still relies heavily on the driver.

Dial-a-ride is a service that commuters can book well in advance, offering drivers the opportunity to map out the best possible route for each traveller. But last-minute changes or cancellations to the route often require deviations calculated by the driver, meaning that they have to chart a new course. While the drivers are trained to navigate these challenges, they simply don’t have all the information as readily available to them as they would other flexible, Demand-Responsive Transport options.

Dial-a-ride’s model not only presents a challenge to the driver, but to the Transit Agencies themselves. Without the support of sophisticated algorithms that can designate a new course for the driver, excess driver miles outside of the pre-charted course occur, resulting in additional trip costs for the Transit Agencies. This means that they are spending more than required to service these trips should they enhance their current software systems.

For travellers using dial-a-ride services, changes in scheduling makes their transit unpredictable. Should the driver be required to deviate from the pre-designated path, this can cause pick-up and drop-off times to occur outside of a reasonable window, making it hard for commuters to maintain employment or meet necessary appointments.

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How can Transit Agencies modernise dial-a-ride services?

1.    Adapt with technology

Dial-a-ride is in serious need of a software overhaul. For many emerging mobility options, smartphone Apps and sophisticated algorithms have allowed trips to become flexible and highly adaptable, meaning travellers are taken on the best course to their destination. This is otherwise known as Demand-Responsive Transport, and can also help cut down on fuel usage, traffic congestion and harmful emissions.

For dial-a-ride, trips are booked over the phone and scheduled in advance before the day of travel. There are also limitations to last-minute bookings, which are at the discretion of the driver and Transit Agency to accept. 

2.    Update fleets

This may seem like a somewhat unnecessary expense were you to look for a quick and convenient solution to the dial-a-ride problem. But modernising your fleet could attract even more passengers to this transit model.

As humans, we look for quality and convenience in our daily lives. Advancements in technology and services speak for themselves—we are always striving for the easiest and most comfortable option. And this is certainly the case when it comes to transport. 

Passengers are not only looking for the quickest way to get to their destination. They want more, and Transit Agencies are scrambling to meet the demand. Modernising fleets with add-ons such as wi-fi and charging stations, while updating the vehicles with air conditioning and well-kept seating, can make a difference in the number of fares the transit service receives in a given day. And if this can be delivered in an affordable manner, it spells success for the Transit Agency.

3.    Focus on health and safety

COVID-19 really shifted our focus on public health. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for travellers to commute while unwell, or even work full shifts in crowded workplaces. But preventive measures such as social distancing and mask wearing brought about by the prevalence of COVID-19 have meant that Public Transport services have had to make some changes.

For the average health-conscious commuter, sharing a ride with the general public is undoubtedly nerve-racking, and this must be even more so for those with disabilities or health complications who may be more vulnerable to the virus. If dial-a-ride wishes to continue operating in these times, a focus on health and safety needs to be established. 

To do so, dial-a-ride service operators should communicate with passengers on the amount of scheduled cleaning that is being conducted to offer them peace of mind. They should also look into how best to implement social distancing measures, offer hand sanitiser and encourage passengers to wear masks while utilising their services. 

Contact tracing is important in the fight against COVID-19, which can be hard to do without the use of smartphone Apps. And by implementing this technology into existing services, passengers would be required to comply with health and safety regulations before even being allowed to travel. These are further reasons why dial-a-ride services need to adapt with technology to meet the changing needs of society in these times. 

4.    Develop a marketing strategy

This isn’t to say that dial-a-ride service operators need to become masters at marketing. But establishing effective communication with passengers and keeping them in-the-know about changes to transit operations can make a difference in the number of fares they receive.

Say a Transit Agency was to adopt many of the strategies listed above. Word of mouth isn’t the most timely and effective way of sharing updates, so creating effective marketing channels both on and offline is key. Some examples include adding a blog to the Transit Agencies’ website, developing a newsletter both in print and online or even utilising CRM software to send emails to your client database. The options are endless.

Engaging a marketing professional can also help execute some of these ideas, should the Transit Agency have the budget to do so.

What are the benefits of modernising dial-a-ride services?

Transit Agencies who are struggling to compete in the emerging mobility market could see a host of benefits from modernising their dial-a-ride services. Adopting a Demand-Responsive Transport system would allow for the most efficient routes to be calculated, meaning less money required to make each trip. And updating fleets with more modern add-ons, such as wi-fi and charging stations, while also adhering to new guidelines around health and COVID-19 safety would spell more fares for the Transit Agency, further contributing to their economic growth.

For the passenger, enhancements in dial-a-ride services would mean that many of the pains of transport are eliminated. They will no longer be taken on long detours to their destination, have a more efficient travel window and will be able to experience all the comforts and additions that other Public Transport services are currently offering. 

As mobility options continue to evolve, dial-a-ride services need to adapt with the times to keep their standing within the market and continue to provide adequate and relevant services for those with accessibility needs.

Want to know more? Discover how to integrate fixed-route transit and paratransit systems.

About the Author

Cassie Holland

Cassie Holland


Cassie has forged a career out of her passion for the written word and love of hearing people's stories. She utilises her writing and editing skills to craft pieces that tell a story.