Roundtable Roundup: Adopting a Common Data Language to Enhance Mobility

On Wednesday, November 20, 2019 AARP, the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) convened a Roundtable of industry leaders on opportunities to improve mobility and promote a new future for Demand Responsive Transportation (DRT).

Unlike city buses or trains, DRT services do not follow fixed routes or schedules. For people who are unable to drive or use regular public transportation, DRT can be a lifeline—the only way to get to crucial destinations such as jobs, medical appointments, or the grocery store.

DRT services are fragmented, characterized by an assortment of providers spread over many overlapping service areas, often serving small, defined segments of the market. The result has been numerous inefficiencies and obstacles to availability for those who depend on DRT services, notably older adults, people with disabilities, rural residents, and Medicaid recipients. The key to improving mobility is for DRT providers to communicate with one another through a common digital language. Services would become better coordinated, more available, and more cost-effective.

The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), recently completed a research project to help develop this common digital language and released TCRP Report 210 Transactional Data Specification for Demand Responsive Transportation. The specification will enable multiple organizations to manage a passenger’s entire trip, from trip request to trip delivery – assuring access to many details that successful coordination among organizations depends on.

Widespread adoption of this specification would define how and when different DRT providers’ computer systems share data. Specifically, it would:

  • Create a shared data format for the entire DRT trip cycle, including each rider’s origin and destination, time traveled, whether the rider qualifies for a subsidy, trip distance, and the portion of the trip shared with other passengers.
  • Specify the steps and order in which data sharing will take place, details that are required for effectively sharing information between systems.

The specification is available at no cost and can be implemented today by local transportation providers as a step toward coordinated, regional transportation systems. The specification can be refined over time through a process of standard setting.

The objectives of the Roundtable addressed:

  • Learning about emerging visions for New Mobility for DRT services.
  • Recapping the challenges non-drivers in America face in reaching healthcare, jobs, and other life-sustaining and social activities.
  • Exploring opportunities for ensuring that those who rely on flexible demand responsive transportation can benefit from new mobility ecosystems.

More specifically the Roundtable addressed critical questions including:

  • How does the data specification advance coordination and interoperability of DRT?
  • What are the opportunities (policy, regulatory, market, institutional) to implement an automated system to share trip data? This includes trip request, scheduling, dispatch, payment, distance, route, rider characteristics, and other areas.
  • What are the key elements that would need to be included in a pilot effort?
  • What are the immediate next steps?

The Roundtable purposefully brought a diverse group together from transportation, aging, health, and other human services sectors. Dorthe Nohr Pedersen, CEO of Movia, leads the largest Public Transportation Authority in Denmark and one of the most successful DRT systems in the world, was the Roundtable’s special guest. The data specifications presented in TCRP Report 210 draw on the success in Denmark.

The vision of the Roundtable was to bring stakeholders together to promote new mobility through automated, coordinated, and flexible transportation where passengers have access to a menu of services through user-friendly platforms that provide the information needed to plan and complete a trip. For people who lack other options, such flexible transportation is critical. It leads to better health and quality of life, combats social isolation, promotes engagement, and is a vital ingredient of livable communities and the ability to age in place. It is imperative that we modernize our demand responsive services so that those who depend on specialized services are able to benefit from emerging mobility systems.

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