Solving the Dial a Ride Dilemma

Dial a Ride which is also known as demand responsive transport, is an ad-hoc service that meets the demands of its passengers.  Within a community transport arena it’s used by passengers who can’t use a standard fixed route service (such as public transport) to travel to medical appointments, school, work, shopping and so on.  Dial a Ride is usually a to the door service.  The vehicle will arrive at the door pick them up and take them to their destination.  The vehicle could be a car but is most often a minibus or accessible vehicle.

Dial a Ride differs slightly to demand responsive transport in that with Dial a Ride the passenger will usually book in advance. Demand responsive services are booked on the day and the transport service quite literally responds to the demands on the day.

The Dial a Ride Problem

The challenge for any dial a ride or demand responsive service, is ensuring that enough passengers travel on the vehicle at any one time to make the service viable for the operator, but also for the community too.  Imagine running a service where only one passenger is on the vehicle.  Not only does it not bring enough income in for the operator, but it’s a heavy burden on the environment too.  If the operator can’t make the service work, it usually means that the service closes which then has a dire impact on the passenger’s quality of life because they can no longer get to where they need to be.  I wonder how often you see minibuses travelling around with only a couple if not one passenger on them?  That’s because the service is not optimised to ensure as many passengers can travel as possible on the vehicle.

Most services will operate these types of ad-hoc operations via paper or via a computer system.  Passengers get booked on, and they are told they will be picked up between a certain time frame.  Unfortunately, as more passengers get added, these time frames differ greatly.  The more calculations that have to be manually made, the more likely the journey is to be closed off to any more passengers to ensure they get to their appointment on time.  In the worst case, passengers are forgotten about, and they don’t even get picked up or hours later than initially planned.  Dial a Ride is complicated.  There was a big need to make things simpler. 

 

road xs dial a ride dilemma solved


Why Dial a Ride Needed Simplifying

The more complex a task is, the more chance there is of things going wrong.  We’re all human.  We all make mistakes.  Unless you are a maths genius and you can calculate permutations at the rate of an IBM supercomputer then at some point planning a dial a ride route manually is either going to take you a long time or cause a problem.  It could also drive you mad!  Have a read here of our ‘People Aren’t Parcels’ scenario and you’ll see what transport managers encounter every day with Dial a Ride services.

On any given day, a Dial a Ride run would not stop, so one problem can lead to greater problems.  Continuous problems with your service results in a poor reputation.  All the passenger cares about is getting picked up at the right time, for the right price to the right destination.  They don’t care about how much work it’s taken to organise their slot.  They do care about being late though!

The Dial a Ride Solution

Usually people think you can just throw technology at a problem or money and it goes away.  But that’s not the case with Dial a Ride.  You can throw money at the problem sure, but it doesn’t mean the problem goes away.  You can throw technology at the problem only to find there is nothing available to solve the problem, so it doesn’t go away.

That’s the scenario we faced in 2018.  The more we learnt about how complex Dial a Ride is from a people perspective as well as a technological perspective, we understood why no one had ever tried to tackle the problem commercially.  It’s just too difficult!

As a result, we looked at what was out there for this problem, and we found that the transport software that was available out there just makes do and allows for manual interventions and ‘guesstimates’ of what a route might look like.  We also found that some software was incredibly expensive and didn’t even solve the problem in the first place, they offered up workarounds and best practice.  They also don’t factor in the travel time of the passenger and what it means to their experience of the journey – there was nothing out there.

It’s not their fault though, Dial a Ride route management is difficult because it always changes.  It needed a different approach.  It needed some innovation.  It needed new technology to be built to fit around people’s lives for both the passenger and the teams which manage the services.

Technology and Transport Road XS

Dial a Ride That Works

I can hear you sighing.  Here we go, same old, same old story.  Why are we so different I hear you ask?

Well we did something a little odd.  We stripped away all the elements of transport services and focused solely on the passenger and what they wanted and expect from a Dial a Ride service.  Then, we thought about the operator, the one that books the journeys onto the system.  We thought about how they must feel and how stressed they must get and concerned about making sure no one was left behind, or no pickup was missed.

That’s how we knew the task ahead was not easy.

After years of development, testing, feedback, permutations and versions, we arrived at our solution.  The best part is we never thought we would get it work, but we did.

Here’s what our Dial a Ride software at Road XS does as a result:

  •  Journeys are created and the available vehicle is selected for the trip
  • Passengers are added to the journey with their requirements captured
  • Routes are optimised including the time a passenger spends in the vehicle, so they don’t stay on the vehicle more than they need to (like a parcel would)
  • Total passengers in transit also get calculated so that the vehicle isn’t over capacity
  • The system also factors in space for wheelchairs and space requirements
  • When more passengers are added the route is re-optimised to meet each passenger’s requirements instantly without any thinking required on the operators side
  • All pickup times are provided which accurately reflect what can be achieved based on real-world mapping and road speeds – no more guesstimating!
  • A real-time interactive run sheet is provided to each driver with GPS
  • The transport office get to see where the vehicle is and who’s been picked up
  • We allow a Dial a Ride and Demand Responsive mode to serve all users needs

Sounds too good to be true?  It isn’t.

One provider let us know that they had been searching long and hard for 9 months and came across us and couldn’t believe what we had done and wish they’d found us sooner.  As they put it, “we remove all the headaches of real-time route planning and optimisation”.

If you’re looking to improve your Dial a Ride or Demand Responsive Transport services and remove the headaches, let us know, and we’ll be happy to show you how it all works.  You’ll be amazed!  Just start a conversation with us or visit our contact page.

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Feb 6, 2020

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