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Allowing ADA Paratransit Reservationists to Work from Home

Description:

Recent circumstances have challenged the paratransit industry’s conventional wisdom that reservationists and the staff that handle customers’ same-day issues (if different) be centralized in order to facilitate supervisory assistance and quality control monitoring, as well as to aid in communication with scheduling and dispatching staff.

NJ Transit commissioned a study in 2017 to explore the feasibility of allowing some of their Access Link reservationists to work from home. The study was spurred by a growing volume of requests for service and no place to house the additional reservationists who were needed. During this time, the average hold time soared to 8 minutes, while some hold times in the afternoon exceeded 16 minutes. The study recommended that NJ Transit allow a certain number of NJ Transit’s more seasoned reservationists to work from home -- and the real-time monitoring of these reservationists -- was not only feasible but could solve the problem. NJ Transit did in fact implement the recommendation on a pilot basis and it was successful. This was the first time in our industry that any large ADA paratransit system had attempted allowing its paratransit reservationists to work from home.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the success of the NJ Transit pilot, many transit agencies followed suit, allowing call takers (and other staff) to work from home as a solution to keeping their non-customer-facing paratransit staff safe. Different technologies and processes for handling customer requests, real-time interaction with dispatching staff, and real-time monitoring have been used with varying degrees of success and challenges. It is also suspected, though unknown at this point (while we are still in pandemic mode) that many of these transit agencies will continue with at-home call-taking after the pandemic has subsided as a cost saving strategy. But, by the time this synthesis effort would begin, we should be able to confirm this practice through this synthesis effort.

Objective:

With these developments in mind, and as a guide for possible post-pandemic changes to service models, the overall purpose of this synthesis is to synthesize the successes and challenges of transit agencies that allow paratransit reservationist and other call takers to work from home. Specific objectives will be to explore and document

(1) The paratransit call and control center functions that are being performed by employees working from home.

(2) The different types of technologies and processes used for these day-to-day functions and staff performance monitoring; what changes to paratransit software or call center telephone systems were made to accommodate call-takers working from home and supervisory functions.

(3) The impact of these strategies on cost reduction, hold time reduction and other benefits.

(4) The related health and safety benefits or worker compensation issues resulting from working from home as well as efforts that are implemented to ensure ergonomics of the home work place.

(5) The related union issues such as negotiating job description changes.

(6) The equipment (computer, phone) and supplies that are provided by the transit agency vs. the employee, and reimbursable costs related from working from home (e.g., internet access enhancements).

Benefits:

Determine challenges and successes related to off-site work by paratransit reservationists and other call takers

Tasks:

Task 1: Meet with Panel and Manage Project

Task 2: Conduct a literature review/industry scan; summarize relevant information

Task 3: Survey Transit Agencies

  • Prepare a survey questionnaire based on objectives and Task 2 findings

  • Identify a targeted list of transit agencies that adopted this practice (as identified from Task 2)

  • Pre-test and conduct the survey, to included clarification follow-ups

Task 4: Prepare a practice overview which covers all of the synthesis objectives and which highlights best practices, policies and supporting technology used

Task 5: Submit case study candidates, rationales and interview guide to panel

Task 6: Conduct case studies

Task 7: Prepare and Submit First Draft Final Report

Task 8: Prepare and Submit Second Draft Final Report and Final Report

Relevance:

Documented best practices will have an immediate payoff for (1) transit agencies who have adopted this practice but have confronted obstacles or otherwise looking for ways to improve the practice; (2) transit agencies that are looking for ways to reduce call center facility costs, ways to reduce customer hold times and/or are at-capacity.

Sponsoring Committee:AP055, Rural, Intercity Bus, and Specialized Transportation
Research Period:6 - 12 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Will Rodman
Source Info:The initial problem statement was developed as a result of AP055 efforts to consolidate relevant research needs pertinent to rural public transit, intercity bus, and/or paratransit from among 16 different source documents from the last few years. The effort identified 175 different needs statements. This problem statement was one of 10 research needs statements that were identified by the AP055 research subcommittee to be submitted for consideration by the TCRP program for funding as syntheses or full projects. Each of these 10 problem statements was presented, discussed and refined in the course of several video meetings of the subcommittee and by topic-specific mini-teams throughout the Fall of 2020.
This problem statement was presented at the Full AP055 Committee and its co-sponsored Paratransit Committee in January 2021 at the TRB Annual Meeting and endorsed by both.
Date Posted:04/30/2021
Date Modified:05/28/2021
Index Terms:Paratransit services, Reservation systems, Reservations, Telecommuting, Personnel, Employees,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Subjects    
Public Transportation
Administration and Management
Data and Information Technology

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