Dakota Transporter
Volume 19, Issue 1Summer 2007

From the President

Picture of Brenda SchweitzerBrenda Schweitzer, President
Dakota Transit Association

As I write this, summer is officially on its final countdown. No doubt, summer vacations, community celebrations, and the many changes in our transit schedules to accommodate the summer activities has kept you more than busy, too.

How do we do it? The key word there is 'we.' Together. More than one. As a team.

In the many aspects of our lives, be it personal or professional, working together as a team accomplishes greater achievements, or simply allows us the support needed when standing alone is difficult.

Teamwork Pulling together as a team, a family, when crisis or illness finds us willing to cover each other to make sure the rides we provide go on; or on a more personal basis, seeing that we just get each other through the day.

Teamwork Understanding the mission we serve, and doing so in such a fine manner that it is acknowledged on a local, regional or even a national level!

Teamwork In the vein of improving the service we provide, taking the options available, and working together to achieve a goal. Working together, as transit projects, as vendors, as funding sources and making great things happen.

Teamwork As a board, bringing opportunity and information to our members, all in the name of rural public transportation! Conventions, training, state coordination and networking opportunities all happen through the mutual desire and dedication toward the project served. This project is Dakota Transit Association.

There have been several highs and lows within all of our agencies over the past several months, on both business and personal levels. I know that I have gathered much strength from my peers in transit. Thank you, personally, as well as on behalf of the Board of Directors, for your support and teamwork. See you at Dickinson in September. We have planned an excellent training and educational conference.

Computer Dispatch Software

Midge Kuntz, Director, Elder Care &
Ron Baumgart, Director, River Cities Public Transit

It had been a long-time goal of Elder Care to operate on an automated dispatch software system due to the growth we had experienced over the previous five years. While researching our options, we found all programs to be very cost-prohibitive. How would we ever be able to purchase a system that would meet our needs? We didn't give up, we just put the idea on the dream shelf.

At a transit provider meeting, NDDOT staff asked about wish lists. Dispatch software, a transit building and more vehicles topped ours. All of these items seemed out of reach. Then I happened to travel to St. Louis, MO, for the CTAA EXPO with Bruce Fuchs, Gary Hegland, and Carol Wright. More discussion about dreams and best practices followed. Carol suggested talking to the SD agencies who were looking at dispatch software. It just so happened that Ron Baumgart mentioned their committee work during the next DTA conference, and if anyone wanted to sit in on their gathering, they were welcome to do so. This was the first step in what resulted in our agency piggybacking onto their fouragency purchase. It was a great opportunity for North Dakota and South Dakota agencies to work together on a common goal. It has been very successful, and we appreciate the experience of working with them.

We began using the system in July 2006. Training/learning was rough, and we had to enter all passengers, their addresses and all destinations and those addresses. Changing from a paper- and pen-based system to a computer-based one requires a different mindset. Our vendor, Shah Software, offered training in stages, making sure we had each stage conquered before moving to the next one. Each stage meant another learning curve event, and we often doubted if we had made the right decision. Sometimes we yearned for the peculiar scent of Wite-Out. But we stuck it out, and in September when we moved our offices into a different building, our dispatcher admitted missing the system when it was down for moving day.

We have now completed the final stage of installing computer monitors in the vehicles, and the drivers touch the screen to confirm rides as they are completed. Their schedule is on-screen, and any changes that are made by dispatch are routed to the screen where a line flashes until the driver confirms they've received it. Drivers can also send a message to dispatch, using a pre-set message such as "fueling up" or can create their own by typing it on the screen.

Titan by Sure-LokAt the dispatch desk, locations of each vehicle are tracked through GIS technology. This allows the dispatch to assign rides in a more efficient manner, since the GIS shows which vehicle is in the area of the ride request. The system assigns the rides to driver's routes for the next day. It took us some time to adjust to that feature; we really didn't want to let go of the control. Now we do allow it to create the routes, and if rides are scheduled a bit too tight, an adjustment is made.

Since implementation of the dispatch system, many tasks have become easier. We no longer use Wite-Out to change our dialysis passengers' pickups and drop-offs. It happens with just a few keystrokes. Any passenger's rides can be entered easily, whether a one-time ride, or a standing reservation which can be set up with an ending date if needed. Reports can be created so that we can tell Wal-Mart exactly how many times we brought customers to shop there, or exactly how many times a passenger was a no-show. We are still learning about the system's capabilities, and we can't imagine returning to the old paper and pen method. We offer our thanks to the SD agencies for allowing us to tag on to their group purchase. It has been a real benefit to us.

River Cities Public Transit (RCPT) went through all the same struggles that Midge describes (including the urge to not use Wite-Out again). This has been a tremendously successful venture that started with four transit systems in SD and one in ND. Since the original start, we have added three more transit projects in SD to our group. The continuation of our group has allowed us to purchase dispatch software, GIS routing and Mobile Data Computers for our vehicles with little to no local match required beyond the in-kind match being provided by our vendors.

We have realized through this process the advantages of several agencies having the same systems. It is not only the cost savings, but we are able to count on each other for technical support and problem solving, in addition to the support from the vendors of our system. We have provided joint trainings to share expenses. In one instance, a transit provider was short a dispatcher, and we were able to send one from RCPT to help for a few days because we know the system.

If there are any other transit agencies interested in becoming part of our group, there is still time. The whole project is coordinated through one agency (RCPT), and that has made it much easier for state DOT's and the vendors of our system. We are willing to continue this opportunity until the end of 2007. Keep in mind if you are a smaller transit agency, you may just want the scheduling software instead of the entire system. This is possible through our group. If you have any questions please contact River Cities Public Transit at (605)945-3166.

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