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Scheduling Agency-Sponsored Rides

The following is the third in a series of blogs on demand response transportation design and operations from guest blogger Steve Yaffe. This blog highlights the importance of an efficient transit scheduling system.

Efficient and effective scheduling enables the transportation provider to stay within budget while maintaining the loyalty of funding agencies.  While efficient scheduling focuses on boardings per vehicle hour, effective scheduling is evaluated by on-time performance.

Vehicle assignments for agency-sponsored trips are structured with regularly scheduled (standing order) rides as the spine.  Unlike on-demand trips, agency-sponsored rides usually are recurring, on the same days each week with the same destination arrival and departure times.  Agency riders tend to value a regular travel and social experience with the same fellow passengers and usually the same driver.  This is especially true for riders with intellectual disabilities or who have limited opportunities to socialize.

I have yet to meet a scheduling software package that can group standing order rides as effectively as a trained and prepared human scheduler.  By adhering to this sequence of activities, one can build an efficient and effective schedule.

1. Collaboration leads to efficiency

Collaboration with local funding agencies, local information and referral services, and other ride providers can:

  • Enable ride requests to be transmitted electronically (eliminate typos!);
  • Enable ride requests to be exchanged electronically (Can you cover this ride for me? –  I’ll return the favor); and
  • Allow billing for rides to funders on a vetted, consistent basis.

A later blog discussing Demand Response Transportation Technology Procurement Specifications will include a link to standard language for how data fields and data exchanges (transactions) should be structured. 

2. Those who ride between the same addresses, on the same days each week, at about the same times, should be incentivized to request a subscription (aka a standing order) ride.

If the ride is scheduled by an agency, the ride request likely will be for a standing order.  The rider benefits from a standing order so the person doesn’t have to call to request each ride.  The transportation provider should consider whether the standing order rider should share in the savings from not having to book each trip.

3. Standing order rides should focus on the latest acceptable arrival and earliest acceptable departure times at the destination.

The pickup time on the going trip and arrival time on the return trip will vary based on other stops on the way and traffic conditions.  On-time performance is likely to be high if the scheduler and scheduling software are focused on the latest acceptable arrival and earliest acceptable departure times at the destination, rather than requested pickup times.  The agencies depend on these times being honored, as they are often paid according to the program hours of service on-site.

4. Standing order rides should be grouped by geography into tours, so that riders from the same area, going the same direction, at the same time, ride together.

Many software programs can batch-schedule trips to an individual destination, from furthest to the closest trip origin.  The scheduler should review the results for logic and to ensure that the streets sequenced for the group ride avoid traffic-clogged sites, when possible, such as highway intersections.  However, the sequence of pickups may also be affected by care-giver schedules.  Some passengers may need an earlier pickup in the morning or later arrival in the evening to ensure that someone is at home.

If the transportation provider has attendants on some vehicles, riders requiring attendant services should be grouped separately and before other riders to those vehicles.

Each group of rides can be referred to as a vehicle tour.  Tours for standing order riders begin and end without passengers, unless an on-demand ride is scheduled onto the vehicle.

The previous blogs on cost-allocation discuss how costs for rides on shared vehicles can be fairly distributed to sponsoring agencies.  Accounting is not a barrier to having neighbors sponsored by different funding sources share a ride.

5. The pickup time on the going trip and arrival time on the return trip must be monitored.

Some agency contracts will mandate maximum ride times.  For adult day health care trips, one hour maximum is best practice to avoid toileting issues.  Most scheduling software packages can be programmed to red flag excessive ride times.

Ride times can lengthen if traffic becomes worse (e.g., more people move into the area), or if the intermediate stops change.  Schedulers should regularly review the actual pickup and alighting times.  Drivers should have the opportunity to suggest changes in pickup or alighting sequence to avoid congestion.  As the clientele served at a destination changes, rides may have to be regrouped.

If the morning pickup or evening arrival times change, or if a passenger is reassigned to a different group, the service site, the caregiver and the rider must be notified in advance.

6. Vehicle manifests, vehicle assignments, and driver assignments are built around vehicle tours. 

Each tour is sequenced for peak period assignments according to their start and end locations and seating needs.  Unless every vehicle in the fleet has the same number of seats and wheelchair positions, vehicle capacity governs which manifests are assigned which tours.  Since peak periods are often three hours long, peak vehicles may be assigned two tours, perhaps preceded or succeeded by an off-peak ride and with an interim ride between the tours.  An AM peak vehicle assignment might begin with bringing people to the first shift at a dialysis center, followed by riders going to supported employment, and a nearby adult day health care center.  A PM peak vehicle assignment may begin with return rides from a second shift at a dialysis center, followed by return rides from supported employment, or adult day health care.

7. Peak vehicle assignments form the structure of driver assignments.

Transportation providers may try to develop weekly driver assignments of 28 to 32 hours based only on peak work.  Off-peak tours or shifts are then assigned to bring drivers up to 40 hours per week.  Passengers may regularly ride with the same people in both directions – but with one driver in the morning and a different driver in the evening.

Off-peak tours may begin with rides for a 10:00 AM arrival at a senior center, followed by group shopping or senior recreational group trips.  Some agencies sponsor evening or weekend group recreational activities.  Some therapy programs, as well as third-shift dialysis, also entail evening service.  Many of these trips are standing order rides that can be grouped into tours.

Weekly driver assignments form the structure of a periodic driver ‘pick’ in which personnel bid by seniority for regular peak period work assignments.  The bid can include regular off-peak tours as well, or those tours can be assigned daily.

8. Once the tours are built and assigned, then on-demand trips can be scheduled.

If the tours are efficiently scheduled, few on-demand rides will be assigned within those tours.  Dial-a-ride trips may fit efficiently before, between, or after the tours.  Some service sites may have occasional riders who can fit within the tour.  Some on-demand trips may have destinations that will fit within the tour schedule.

Key Performance Indicators:

  • On-Time Performance – percentage of rides provided that do not arrive late or depart early from the destination and are within the maximum ride-time limit.
  • Boardings per vehicle service hour – or per service mile for rural systems. This is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to measure the efficiency of scheduling and street operations. To be accurate, this calculation should be based on actual pickup times.  Urban/suburban systems usually find that boardings per vehicle service hour is more meaningful, as the routing for the same trip can change daily given traffic conditions.
  • Percent Overtime – Overtime driver pay hours divided by total driver pay hours.
  • Hours of service per peak vehicle.
  • Rides provided per peak vehicle are internal KPIs showing how intensely resources are being used.

The next three blogs will discuss transit technology procurement methods. 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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