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Proceedings of a Workshop – Ushering in an Era of New Mobility: People, Community and Technology

The following is the last in a series of seven blogs on demand response transportation design and operations from guest blogger Steve Yaffe. In this last blog of the series, the need for transactional data specifications to efficiently provide demand response transportation.

Many older adults and people with disabilities have difficulty in reaching medical appointments, grocery stores, work, school, or social or religious venues for community connections.  The challenge is growing as our population ages and more Americans cope with chronic health conditions and major disabilities.  The resources to provide needed mobility are constrained and often inadequate – especially in rural areas.  Operating separate ride services for specific clientele groups – even when two vehicles are traveling in the same neighborhood in the same direction at approximately the same time – is not financially sustainable.  Information must be exchanged to efficiently refer clients to Demand Response Transportation (DRT) ride providers.  Likewise, information must be exchanged to enable ride providers to efficiently group and transport clients with clients of other providers or subsidy programs.

At the same time, public transportation is transitioning towards a mobility system employing a variety of shared ride services. Public transit remains the leading mode of use with increasing focus on frequent services in congested corridors.  Suburban areas (neighborhoods and office/industrial parks) are transitioning to Demand Response Transportation (DRT) services, with connections and transfers at mobility hubs to and from limited-stop rail and bus transit routes.  These DRT ride providers include public sector services as well as private sector shared-ride taxis; app-based ride providers such as Lyft and Uber; neighborhood and office/industrial park shuttles; and app-based circulator services provided within specified geographic boundaries.  Information must be exchanged to enable the public to find appropriate ride options, book rides that may require transferring between vehicles, and pay for those rides.

Exchanging the information necessary to efficiently provide needed rides requires standardized data formatting specifications.  The information to be exchanged includes:  the trip origin; destination; date; departure or arrival time; fare; and necessary information about the rider.  Transit Cooperative Research Project G-16 was conceived to develop the technical specifications for transactional data necessary to allow information to be exchanged by entities involved in the provision of DRT. This collaborative research effort engaged stakeholders including public, private, and nonprofit entities; software developers; and academics.

In October 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) released the culmination of this effort: Transit Cooperative Research Program’s TCRP Research Report 210, “Development of Transactional Data Specification for Demand-Responsive Transportation”validator software tool was also developed that verifies data messages generated by a software system.

The recommended specification has the flexibility to accommodate further innovations and may evolve, at some future time, to standards for transactional data.  Privacy and security considerations are a focus in the transmission and storage of transactional data. The report also identifies key strategies to encourage adoption of the proposed specifications; propose and carry out an approach for testing the specifications; create an open source tool for data producers to validate their data against the specifications; and create and convene a forum for consensus-based refinement of the technical specifications.

A workshop sponsored by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and AARP was held on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at the offices of AARP in Washington D.C to discuss this research, as well as steps to support implementation of the research results.  Workshop attendees included healthcare and mobility perspectives from service planners, providers and consultants; technologists; federal and regional agencies; and relevant trade associations. This exchange produced a consensus on the need to break down silos and to collaborate across disciplines.

The need for a standard Transactional Data Specification for Demand-Responsive Transportation is cross-cutting.  Rural, suburban and urban agencies serving older adults, people with disabilities and low-income Americans could share resources and provide more rides within budgetary limitations.  Small and large, established and new, ride providers could all participate in a local mobility system of services.  More Americans outside densely populated cities would be able to maintain their mobility without reliance on driving alone – they could use a single ride provider or combination of ride providers to meet their needs.

With adoption of a standard Transactional Data Specification for Demand-Responsive Transportation, a 211 or other information and referral service could key information into a standardized file regarding the rider and the transportation need and transmit that to a transportation call center to schedule the ride.  In turn, the call center could assign the ride to a provider, again transmitting necessary information electronically.  The ride provider would complete the file (time of pickup, drop-off, charge for the ride) and bill the agency subsidizing the trip.  Neighbors, sponsored by different programs, could ride together.  Trips requiring a transfer between a neighborhood shuttle and a transit bus could be coordinated easier to reduce waiting time.

To learn more about the key takeaways from the workshop sponsored by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC), the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and AARP  held on Wednesday, November 20, please view Proceedings of a Workshop – Notes in Brief.

Future articles, blogs, and webinars will follow to further describe the structure of this proposed standard.

Your comments to these blogs are welcome – please email the author at

Steve Yaffe is an independent consultant and a contractor for the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center.  He draws upon 40 years’ experience planning, procuring, overseeing and evaluating demand response and fixed route transit services, including 16 years with a consolidated human service transportation program.  He has served on research panels and co-chaired the 2019 Transportation Research Board’s International Conference on Demand Responsive and Innovative Transportation Services.

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