This is the fifth blog in a series of technology alerts that will be shared with the NADTC mailing list. Make sure you check out the first four articles in this series, How Do I Get Started with Technology, What are the Keys to Making Technology Implementation Successful?, Navigating Funding Opportunities for Technology Planning and Deployment and An Embarrassment of Riches: Multiple Funding Sources and Technology Projects. Subscribe now to receive these posts in your inbox!
Today, the term “Collaborative Economy” is being used as if it is a new concept within a “sharing economy.” In fact, in transportation, there has been a collaborative economy ever since agencies have been coordinating services, particularly for persons with disabilities and the elderly. We can think about technology in a similar way – why should individual agencies procure their own technology if they are providing services similar to other agencies and wish to coordinate services?
Leveraging shared resources and technology is an approach that can make it possible for agencies to implement technology and facilitate coordinated operations.
Further, given that often, limited resources are available for technology deployment, leveraging shared resources and technology is an approach that can make it possible for agencies to implement technology and facilitate coordinated operations. This article addresses the benefits of leveraging technology and sharing resources to make it possible for agencies to move forward with technology.
There are several US Department of Transportation programs that encourage agencies, particularly those that do not have much experience with technology, to explore the use of technology. While this encouragement is admirable, it may lead to an agency looking at technology in a vacuum. Further, funding cycles as discussed in an earlier NADTC technology e-alert, can cause agencies to look at technology procurement independent of other agencies they may work with regularly. And there is one other reason agencies consider technology in a vacuum – they may think that the way they provide service is unique. Many times I have heard agencies declare that they do not operate or provide service like any other agencies.
The fact is that human services transportation (HST) agencies have more similarities than they think. They are providing transportation whether or not they operate in the same ways. Their hours of service, eligibility criteria and other service characteristics could be different, but they still are providing transportation. Given this, technology to facilitate scheduling or coordinating service, for example, could be used by multiple agencies. This means that multiple agencies could combine their efforts to procure one scheduling software product, rather than each agency purchasing their own software. Agencies could combine their scarce resources to procure this software.
There are multiple benefits to this approach.
- First, each agency spends less to obtain the software.
- Second, the amount of time required for the procurement might be reduced as compared to each individual agency running their own procurement. This is true even though a collaborative approach will require all of the involved agencies to take the time to ensure that each agency’s needs will be met by the one system being procured.
- Third, multiple people will learn and work with the software. This means that more than one person will become knowledgeable about the software and can potentially help other agencies use the software.
- Fourth, coordinating services will be easier if the agencies are using the same software. With the same technology, agencies can easily share information that is critical to service coordination (e.g., vehicle location).
- Fifth, jointly procuring technology can create “economies of scale,” particularly with hardware. If one agency is procuring hardware, the number of units may be quite low, but the amount that agency spends on hardware could be higher than if more units are being purchased in one procurement to benefit several agencies.
- Finally, with more than one agency using the same technology, the need for information technology support may be significantly reduced. This is the case especially if the system or software is implemented using a “hosted” approach (meaning that the software is installed on the software vendor’s server and each agency accesses the software via the internet).
This joint procurement approach has been used in purchasing buses for years. Jointly procuring technology is not new either. “A more effective approach for the Eastern Contra Costa Transit Authority has been to create ‘economies of scale’ by collaborating with other agencies and by hiring subject matter experts as consultants. Our first experience with this strategy occurred several years ago when we partnered with two other small agencies in procuring the newest generation of paratransit scheduling software. This important acquisition would have been out of reach for any of us had we acted individually rather than collectively.”
The benefits of leveraging technology and sharing resources are summarized very well by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as follows. “Combining resources with other agencies on projects of mutual interest can result in RFPs requests for proposals that attract new bidders, increase competition, leverage better contract terms and pricing, and save time and money. The key is to forge sound, business-driven partnerships that benefit all parties.”1
Stay tuned for the next technology blog entitled “Framework for the Future: The New Transportation Ecosystem and Sharing Economy.”
 American Public Transportation Association, Procurement Handbook: A Guide for Transit Industry Executives, October 2014, page 13, https://www.apta.com/resources/bookstore/Documents/APTA_Procurement.pdf
About the Author:
Carol Schweiger, President of Schweiger Consulting, has over 36 years of experience and is nationally and internationally recognized in transportation technology consulting. Her wide-ranging and in-depth expertise is in several specialty areas including systems engineering, technology strategies for public agencies, public transit technology, and traveler information strategies and systems. Ms. Schweiger has provided nearly 50 transportation agencies with technology technical assistance, including developing and applying structured processes to procure and implement technology systems; providing detailed procurement and implementation assistance; evaluating technology deployments; conducting research and delivering training.