City, County Merge Accessible Transit Programs

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Changes to Raleigh’s transportation system for residents with disabilities could soon mean more options for riders.

City Council members approved a move Tuesday to partner with Wake County in an effort make the Accessible Raleigh Transportation system more efficient and user friendly.

Pending approval from the city attorney, ART will combine with a similar program in Wake County, consolidating transportation services for both. Wake County Commissioners approved the interlocal agreement at their meeting Tuesday.

The consolidation means extending the hours during which users can speak with a live person. Users will soon have one contact number to schedule, cancel, or change rides, and request status updates of existing rides.

The merged program will also create an automated courtesy call system to remind users of upcoming rides so they can make changes to those orders if necessary.

According to Raleigh Transit Administrator Dave Eatman, the biggest immediate change will be implementing a true dispatch call center with extended office hours.

Currently, the ART call line is available from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a voicemail option for requests made on Saturday and Sunday. While Raleigh residents use one number now, that number directs them to the main call center, which is intended specifically to schedule rides, but receives more than 500 calls a day related to all aspects of ART.

During peak times, such as the beginning of the month, during the holidays and in inclement weather, wait times for callers tend to increase.

“We don’t have extended wait times, but we do have some wait times, and that should help that tremendously so that our clients are able to get through and schedule their trips very efficiently,” Eatman said.

Clients will not observe changes in the phone system for at least a few months, Eatman said.

“We’re going to be slow and deliberate,” Eatman said. “We don’t want to shock the system with a change that we did not vet properly before we deployed it.”

Eatman said they have set aside about $200,000 in grant funding to pay for the initial costs associated with the project.

The model for the consolidated program also includes future plans to improve user experience using online vehicle location and automated dispatch functions that display trips on tablets in the vehicles.

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