National Transport Authority, Ireland
Rural Transport Budget (2019): €24.9m
Ireland’s National Transport Authority is a statutory non-commercial body, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It was established in 2009 on the foot of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, having originally been developed to be a transport authority for the Greater Dublin Area. It was later renamed the National Transport Authority in the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009. The role of the NTA was later extended to include the provision of integrated information schemes for public transport in the cities and counties of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, and the neighboring areas of those counties. At its core, the NTA strives to develop and implement key strategies that will ultimately provide high quality, accessible, sustainable transport connecting people in communities across Ireland.
Land-use patterns in Ireland are dominated by low to medium density development in suburban areas, highly dispersed rural populations and the growth in peripheral development of services and employment. This settlement and employment locational context, which dictates travel demand, is difficult to serve by public transport. In very isolated rural areas, the demand for travel may not even support the provision of bus services but may have to be met by local hackney services or community car schemes where they exist.
Within this context, effective route planning, using the optimum tools available, was critical for NTA to identify optimum route/service options.
NTA contracted Remix to provide data, analysis, and testing to inform its business decision processes.
Increased number of passenger journeys from 1.95M in 2018 to 2.5M+ in 2019
Provided 1 million of these passenger journeys for Free Travel Passengers
Delivered scheduled services operating 6-7 times daily up to 7 days per week as well as Demand Responsive Services
Reduced route approval times for Demand Responsive services in half- from approximately 6 months down to less than 3 months
Tell us about the initial challenges you faced with transport planning.
While the Authority is responsible for the overall management of the Rural Transport (Local Link) Program, the day to day operations are managed by 15 Local Link offices staffed by a Manager as well as Admin/ Finance and Dispatch support staff. One of the key roles played by these teams is to identify transport needs in the community and to propose either new services or variations to existing services. Prior to Remix, these teams had limited tools to draw upon to assist them with this work.
With Remix, how were you able to address those challenges?
Remix provides the data and layers behind specific route requests so that we can now make more informed decisions based on reliable data.
For example, we use Remix for connectivity projects, route development, performance monitoring and optimization. Through demographic and patronage data, this allows us to understand who has and does not have access to transport, from where, to where, and how often. As a result of using Remix, we can make a strong business case for altering a route. We can make recommendations to improve route proposals after testing out new route ideas and evaluating their impacts.
Some of the areas in Ireland are so rural that they might not even appear on Google maps and often rural places might have 2-3 different names. Using Remix helps us address those issues.
We’ve used Remix for route diversion work as well. The manager of the Local Link office can draw route diversions in Remix and send to the operators. Using Remix gives us more confidence that a new route will be successful because it now becomes a data-driven business case, resulting in a better outcome for our community.
How have you gained efficiencies with route approvals?
We have become much more efficient with route planning and management with Remix.
Now, we have the tools to layer a broad range of social, cultural and economic data in a given geographic area. The right visuals allow us to understand and discuss complex concepts more easily, resulting in more informed conversations about route planning proposals. In fact, we’ve been able to cut route approval times for Demand Responsive services in half- from approximately six months down to less than three months. This means we can deliver on our community’s needs in a more timely fashion- and armed with data.
ITMS Manager, National Transport Authority
Tell us about Local Link Cork and some of the benefits they’re seeing,
Local Link Cork in Ireland, serves the largest county in the State with a population of 417,211 (2018 Census). It’s very hard to get around Cork from certain areas of Cork—you could be driving for two hours and still be in Cork. The demographic has changed a lot in the last year with many new communities arriving into very rural parts of the country. In many cases, members of these new communities do not have access to cars and experience significant isolation issues. These marginalized communities are a big focus for rural transport and Local Link Cork.
Local Link Cork’s goals are not monetary but rather community service based, and most of their services, if not all, would not prove profitable to a private operator. Services include transporting elderly people to shopping excursions, students to continuing education courses, and people to social gatherings and tourist attractions. It’s a close-knit community-- if a passenger doesn’t board the bus for a week, other passengers will connect with the family members to make sure he or she is okay. It’s much more than a bus route; it’s a true community.
In rural areas, routes may be changed if a new passenger wants to travel with us. For example, a passenger shared that a friend’s uncle up the road recently lost a family member and he’s now isolated. She was worried about him and wanted to make sure he had opportunities to socialize with others, so she requested that a bus route be varied so he could access it. Local Link Cork gives back to the community through implementing bus routes that provide accessibility to people who otherwise would have transportation challenges.
Tell us about Local Link Cork’s big win with route 254.
Route 254 addressed an area of Cork that had very little bus services. Demand from a new college was growing year-over-year with more and more courses. There were a couple of routes with private operators servicing them, but passenger numbers demanded more routes to service the growing need.
At this time when we were tackling this challenge, we were introduced to Remix. It allowed us to see the populations and where we could bring in a service. Remix showed exactly where the need was. We managed to bring in a new service that did a loop to some villages that didn’t have service and then into college during morning and evening times when students were coming and going.
Using Remix was also valuable in producing the timetable. We had a route going clockwise a couple days a week, then anti-clockwise to service villages in the middle of the day. Creating a timetable was challenging, but the Remix team held our hands with patience and the end result was a timetable that flowed beautifully to show passengers how and when the bus would operate.
We’re already seeing success. Passenger numbers are looking very good. It’s a life line to students who previously had to ask family members to leave work to drive them to/from college.
What are some innovative ways that Local Link Cork has raised awareness of their services and reached a new demographic of passengers?
Local Link Cork participated in the Authority’s ‘Kids Go Free’ national campaign in July 2019 which provided free transport to all passengers aged 18 and under. Prior to the promotion, the majority of passengers were elderly; younger people perhaps felt they weren’t welcome. The campaign communicated that kids were welcome on the bus. We saw an increase in ridership from this younger demographic, so the campaign was successful.
How quickly did your team adopt using Remix?
Like any new tool when you first start using it, you’re a little cautious. However, after the initial learning curve, we took to Remix quickly and easily. The user-friendly nature of Remix has helped tremendously. We have a very diverse group of people working in rural transport, and many do not necessarily come from IT or transport backgrounds. If the software wasn’t user-friendly, we simply wouldn’t use it. We now have all 15 Local Link offices using Remix for route planning.
After our initial training, we quickly understood how Remix operates: how to mark your stops, how to disable your stops, how to work your timetable. Routing the fastest route is helpful but it’s not always the fastest route that we’re looking for. It’s more about how we can service an area that doesn’t have service. We leaned on our Customer Success Manager (CSM) in the early days, and he continues to be a supportive partner to us.
Our CSM provided online training which is a great training tool for new staff. It’s a couple hours of online training, and team members can revisit it from time to time as needed.
Do you feel you’re a strategic partner helping to shape and build the Remix product?
Yes, we definitely feel we have a positive relationship as a strategic partner to Remix. Many of our suggestions have resulted in product changes. For example, initially the maps were not detailed enough for rural areas, so we shared that feedback with the Remix team. Now certain towns and rural areas are more visible, and it’s made a big difference. Our Local Link offices know they can provide feedback and Remix will explore the suggestions. It’s a great feeling to know we’re being heard.
What’s next for NTA?
For next year, we’re looking at redesigning the passenger booking system for our Demand Responsive services. We, of course, want Remix integrated into this system. To take on a new system in less than a year and now be a part of the IT plans going forward is a big deal for us.
Our users are now more active on social media giving us feedback on how buses are performing and identifying any issues with timetables, service performance etc. As time goes by, the benefits of Remix will grow exponentially as our population turns more to technology and digital access. We’re excited for the future.
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