County Connection has been providing public transit service to the central and south regions of Contra Costa County for nearly 40 years. During those years, County Connection has constantly been innovative, forward-looking, and at times the first-to-implement new technologies, all of which allows us to continuously provide better service to the public and/or promote greater efficiencies in our operations.
In this and in a few future blogs, I will review some of County Connection’s past progressive efforts. The final blog in this series will look at where we expect the next opportunities for public transportation innovation to be found.
I’ll start with two things we did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Making Transit More Accessible
Did you know that County Connection became the first public transit system in America to deploy a fully accessible fleet of buses on its fixed-route services?
In the 1980s, County Connection set out to install wheelchair (we now say mobility device) lifts on every bus. It should be noted that through the 1990s, most transit buses had high floors that required the use of stairs to board and alight the bus. At the same time, a lot of transit providers did not offer mechanical lifts to allow people with wheelchairs to get in and out of standard transit buses, which made it impossible, in many cases, for them to use public transit.
With the high floor and stairs barriers, County Connection saw the need to serve those folks who used mobility devices with its fixed-route service network, so it set out to install lifts on every bus. By early 1989, County Connection completed its installation of lifts and became the first public transit system to do so. This forward-thinking approach to make transit services more accessible to all riders turned out to foreshadow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in September of 1990, which among many other things, mandated that public transit outfit all of its buses with lifts by the end 1996. County Connection was way ahead of the curve.
By about 2000, most of the new buses in North America were designed with a low floor eliminating the need for a wheelchair lift.
In late 1989, County Connection became the first transit system in America to procure and install the Trapeze fixed-route scheduling system, a first-of-its-kind highly computerized scheduling software exclusively made for scheduling fixed-route transit buses.
One of the innovations that Trapeze allowed us to take advantage of early on is how it facilities – through computerized scheduling – the practice of interlining routes and buses. This is because Trapeze scheduling software was the first such software to rely on complex algorithms to create a system schedule based on inputs and parameters set by the scheduler. Interlining is the practice of using one bus for multiple routes as opposed to having one bus run just along one route. This creates operating efficiencies such that with interlining you can provide the same level of service in terms of hours of service with fewer buses and lower operational costs.
After we installed Trapeze in early 1990, we began to increase our interlining of buses over time. This led to significant operational efficiency gains at County Connection. Without the computerization, complex interlining becomes extremely time-consuming, as well as challenging for people without advanced math degrees.
Today, Trapeze fixed-route scheduling software is used by at least half of all public transit systems in America. Once again, County Connection was ahead of the curve.
These are just a few examples of what we have done at County Connection that reflect our innovative spirit. Did both of these innovations meet the test of: Does the innovation either make the service better for the customer or create cost savings in our day-to-day operations? In the case of installing wheelchair lifts and implementing a highly computerized software package, the answer is yes. Innovation paid off very well.