The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 26, 2013

New option for bus riders

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A new option is available for those wanting to reserve a seat on Enid’s public transit service.

Instead of calling a bus dispatcher, riders now can fill out an online form through the city website, and an Enid Public Transportation Authority vehicle will pick them up.

Those who do call first will be greeted with an automated menu, where they also can schedule a pickup.

EPTA General Manager James Neal said the new automated systems are part of the ongoing effort to make the transit service more efficient and effective.

“We are in a period of transition and evaluation right now at EPTA,” Neal said. “We need to continue to find ways to cut our costs, increase revenue and operate more efficiently. A crucial part of that process is finding ways to use technology to streamline our operations.”

The automated telephone menu and online reservation service is intended to relieve pressure on the agency’s dispatchers, who also are responsible for taking calls and communicating scheduled stops with drivers. That latter part of the job has become more important now that the EPTA only offers curb-to-curb service instead of a fixed-route system.

“This antiquated system routinely tied up several phone lines and prevented the dispatchers from focusing on their core job responsibility — efficiently managing system assets to meet public demand,” Neal said.

As of this week, when a transit customer calls the dispatch number, (580) 233-RIDE, they are routed to an automated system that provides system information, hours and fares in both English and Spanish.

At the end of the automated system, callers still have the option to speak with a dispatcher.

Neal was brought on to manage the bus service in the midst of a financial crisis. He implemented drastic changes to prevent going over budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars and spending more than the agency had in the bank.

The problems arose in 2008, when the city-operated bus system abandoned what was essentially a taxi service in favor three fixed routes from bus stop to bus stop. Ridership plummeted.

And because there were fewer riders, the EPTA lost out on valuable grant funds from state and federal sources.

In a press release announcing the new methods of scheduling a ride, Neal said customers can visit and fill out the online form, call the automated operator or even set up or cancel a ride through their smartphone.

Transit service is available as a free app for iPhones and Android devices. To use the free app, download Enid Support Mobile from Google Play or the iTunes app store and use the EPTA tabs under “Make Request.”

Before these technological changes were implemented recently, virtually the only way to schedule a ride was by speaking directly to a transit dispatcher.

“We know some of our customers do not have access to a computer or smartphone,” Neal said. “For people who are unable to schedule a ride online, we still offer the option to schedule by phone by following the prompts in the automated system. For people who do have access to a computer or smartphone, we ask that you use the online reservation system to schedule or cancel bus rides.”

Both the automated phone system and the online reservation program were developed using existing city of Enid resources and did not require any additional expense to EPTA or the city, Neal said.

He said the systems will be evaluated and adjusted in the coming weeks to maximize effectiveness.

“As with any new system, we know there will be a learning curve, both for our staff and for the public, and we will make adjustments to the system as needed,” he said. “We’re grateful to our customers for their patience through this process, and for their efforts to help streamline our operations.”