Service Evaluation & Planning
RLS & Associates, Inc. (RLS) has emerged in recent years as one of the country’s leading consulting firms in the planning and design of urban public transportation and paratransit services. RLS also remains a leader in the planning of small, urban and rural transportation systems. RLS offers a unique, and innovative perspective on planning public transportation service that is built on a pragmatic approach and knowledge of both traditional and new techniques used in the design of many types of transit services. RLS offers several related products in this area from ridership/passenger load profiles, on-board survey summaries, route segment ridership productivity, and route profiles, to complete schedules, and run-cuts, all aimed at enhancing service performance and improving the customer experience.
ADA Complementary Paratransit
Under the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA’s) Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), public transportation providers are required to provide complementary paratransit service to people with disabilities whose disabilities prevent them from using fixed route bus or rail services.
Ensuring that federally funded transportation providers offer and promote effective complementary paratransit services to people with disabilities is a critical part of protecting people with disabilities from discrimination. RLS has worked with providers throughout the United States to evaluate and improve ADA complementary paratransit services.
When evaluating existing services to determine compliance and effectiveness, RLS assesses several key aspects including, existing fixed route service, complementary paratransit service criteria, eligibility determination process, functional assessment techniques, travel training tools, public participation, coordination with other public entities, endorsements and certifications, overall planning considerations, and demand estimate. Depending on the extent to which RLS determines the provider meets the community’s needs, RLS also examines the feasibility of developing a transportation services model that allows for service expansion and includes multiple providers, increased efficiency and effectiveness, and minimum costs. Many communities face increasing demand for ADA complementary paratransit services and realize their systems are not designed to handle such increases. RLS assists these providers by determining areas needing improvement and developing detailed plans to resolve issues. RLS has determined future demand for services by using projected age cohorts and disability incidence factors. Strategies to assist services facing increased demand have included tightening eligibility requirements, restricting the service area to ADA requirements only, and instituting a fare for the service.
Demand response, or paratransit, services refer to any transportation system that is not fixed route. Such services generate trips through calls from passengers or a third party on their behalf. RLS can assist transit systems in the design, planning, and evaluation of demand responsive services that best meet the needs of their local communities, including immediate demand, advanced reservation, deviated or flex fixed route, and other variations, including micro transit. RLS can also assist transit systems in the selection and procurement of transit vehicles best suited in the provision of demand response service, including specification development and procurement, such as the assistance provided to the Ottawa County Transportation Agency (Ottawa) in Oak Harbor, Ohio.
SWOT Analysis/Threat and Vulnerability Assessment (TVA)
RLS has developed strategic plans for its clients by conducting thorough analyses and assessments. These analyses and assessments are often conducted as part of clients’ Transit Demand Management (TDM) planning, as was the case for the Capitol Area Transportation Authority in Lansing, Michigan and the Hampton Roads Virginia Transit Vision Plan. RLS conducted S.W.O.T. analyses for these clients as a way of identifying the TDM goals and objectives. The S.W.O.T. analysis included identification of the following:
- Strengths – The successful TDM activities were documented along with the primary reasons for their success.
- Weaknesses – The areas needing improvement in current TDM activities were described. This included an identification of areas where new TDM activities were warranted.
- Opportunities – The unique situations present in the client’s region that, if taken advantage of, could result in improved TDM activities.
- Threats – The local, regional, national, and global environment issues that could include potential problems for TDM projects.
RLS then used the analyses to establish the basis for the clients’ TDM priorities. The resulting prioritized lists of these strategies drove the Strategic Plans.
RLS has also employed Threat and Vulnerability Assessments for projects regarding safety and security planning, such as for the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB). RLS reviewed the FNSB Transportation Department’s current methods of threat and vulnerability resolution and established procedures to eliminate, mitigate, transfer, and/or accept specific risks acceptable to FNSB. RLS first focused on developing a FNSB Transportation Department Security Plan to reflect all components of the FTA National Safety Program. RLS employed a systematic approach that ensured the security and emergency preparedness were addressed during all phases of system operations, including the hiring and training of agency personnel; procurement and maintenance of agency equipment, development of agency policies, rules and procedures; and seamless coordination with local public safety and community planning agencies, which included identifying, evaluating, and resolving threats and vulnerabilities.
RLS provides facility planning and design assistance to small urban and rural transit systems which may be purchasing, building, or rehabbing an existing facility. A complete package of templates and documents to assist transit systems in this process was developed during the era of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, which continue to be useful benchmarks for such planning yet today. The documents include a facility design template, design guidelines, guidelines for evaluating cost proposals, a Documented Categorical Exclusion (DCE) checklist, and a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for procuring Architectural and Engineering Services. A series of workshops was also developed to assist transit systems with their construction projects, including one on Environmental Clearance, DBE and A/E services, and Quality Assurance. Various other products were also developed as part of this project.
RLS has worked with State DOTs to create and implement detailed service implementation and/or expansion plans that include new routes, route alignment changes, schedules, run cuts, cost and revenue projections, and an implementation timetable. RLS has addressed such issues as the growing demand for crosstown travel by establishing satellite transit centers and circulator services. RLS did this work in Canton, OH for the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA), and in Ashe County, NC.
Flex or Deviated Route
Flex or deviated routes refer to transportation that runs on specific routes, but may deviate from their routes to serve pick-up or drop-off requests within designated distances from the routes. RLS knows that, when managed and operated effectively, flex or deviated route systems can be excellent ways for communities to serve their population and remove transportation barriers for seniors, Veterans, low-income and disadvantaged people. RLS has worked with clients both to determine whether flex or deviated route systems would benefit the clients’ community and to assess already developed flex or deviated routes. RLS was hired by the V-Line transit system in Indiana when the system, faced with significant growth in ridership, was struggling to stretch its resources to provide more and better service, without compromising service quality. RLS’ project tasks included (1) Interviews with staff, local officials, and other community stakeholders; (2) Public meetings; (3) Onboard passenger surveys; (4) Evaluation of latent transit demand; (5) Detailed route evaluations, realignment, and mapping; (6) Major service feature recommendations based on the findings of previous tasks; and (6) A cost analysis with a 5, 10, and 15 year financial plan.
For ADA purposes, flex or deviated route service is considered demand response service and does not require an ADA plan nor ADA complementary service. RLS staff has developed a plan for flex route service for RCATS in Asheboro, NC.
Human Service Agency
It is important for RLS to work with the human service agencies in its clients’ service areas—both those who operate transportation service and those who are only purchasers of transportation service—and include them in the outreach component of all service planning and evaluation projects and coordinated plans, in order for RLS to understand what and how community needs are met, and where there may be gaps in service. Assessing human service transportation throughout the state of Ohio was a critical component of the Ohio Mobility Transformation project that RLS has worked with ODOT and 14 other State agencies. This project will dramatically change how human service transportation is funded and provided in Ohio.
RLS has conducted Intercity Bus studies for state DOTs that evaluated the status of the intercity bus industry in the states, with particular emphasis on assessing the need for intercity bus service across the states and providing recommendations for states’ intercity bus programs.
As part of its approach to these intercity bus studies, RLS conducts public outreach efforts to gather input into the community’s unmet intercity bus needs These efforts include stakeholder surveys and the FTA required consultation process of meeting with the states’ intercity bus providers, RTAs and the general public. RLS identifies the state’s capital and operating needs and costs, and develops a service implementation plan that can be used to successfully develop a statewide intercity bus network, such as RLS’ work in Indiana and South Carolina
Micro Transit Design
Microtransit, a form of demand response transit service, is technology enabled service offering flexible routing and/or flexible scheduling. Transit systems in larger cities are using some microtransit services (e.g., Uber, Lyft) to provide first and last mile of service, to and from bus stops.
Multi-modal planning refers to all modes of transportation, e.g., automobile, walking, cycling, public transit, etc.) as well as connections among these modes. Multi-modal plans can also include traffic impact studies to evaluate traffic impacts and mitigation strategies for a particular project. Multi-modal plans can be local neighborhood transportation plans; corridor transportation plans to identify projects and programs to be implemented on a specific corridor, such as along a particular highway, bridge or route; regional plans for a metropolitan or multi-county region; statewide plans; transportation improvement plans (TIPs) or transit development plans (TDPs) that identify specific projects and programs to be implemented within 3-5 year outlook; and strategic, long-range plans (20-40 years in the future). RLS has conducted dozens of these types of plans in rural, small urban, and large urban plans, such as the Cary, NC Multimodal Transit Center study to accommodate regional rail, regional bus, local bus, and bus rapid transit (BRT) services.
RLS works with its clients to develop, evaluate, and improve their service operations to most effectively serve their communities. As part of this operations process, RLS offers its clients recommendations in a number of areas including, vehicles; governing board; transit facilities; transit goals and objectives; management and organization; service planning; scheduling/dispatching; transportation equipment maintenance; purchasing; marketing and public relations; fares and contract pricing policy; accounting and finance; personnel and labor relations; and safety and training. Recommendations often lead to restructuring certain operational areas such as the client changing from contract management to direct management and hiring its own general manager.
Paratransit refer to transportation services that are not fixed-route or rail; they serve passengers upon request and are often the means by which communities serve their population and remove transportation barriers for seniors, Veterans, low-income and disadvantaged people.
For its clients, RLS has examined how the quality and the quantity of paratransit services for older adults, people with disabilities, and disadvantaged people could be expanded and integrated with existing services; conducted studies to define the operational and administrative characteristics of a regional paratransit program and identify the potential benefits and corresponding challenges of developing such a program; provided technical assistance by evaluating flex or deviated route services to determine if a paratransit plan was necessary; and prepared and implemented paratransit plans throughout the country.
A strategic plan is a written document that provides direction forward into the future. It presents an entity’s goals and explains why they’re important. Strategic planning can also help a transit system uncover ways to improve performance, discover insights about how to restructure in order to meet a system’s full potential, help plan for expanded service, and reach new market segments. It can also be a problem solving tool, organizationally and operationally. RLS can provide strategic planning assistance ranging from one to two-day facilitated brainstorming sessions to establish goals and objectives accompanied by a detailed action plan.
As the technology industry as a whole has exploded over the last two decades, transit has been the beneficiary of many of these technological advances. From state-of-the-art fare collection equipment, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), geographic information systems (GIS), dozens of software applications for improving and enhancing dispatching and scheduling functions to the use of on-line surveys and training technologies, video surveillance equipment, automated passenger counters, transit systems have access to a vast array of technological tools to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their transit services. RLS has assisted state Departments of Transportations (DOTs), urban, small urban, and rural transit systems, and private nonprofit agencies in this area by assessing their technology needs and evaluating the different available applications and products. Specifically, RLS has assisted with the development of technology plans, training programs for a specific software application, and specifications development and reviews; reviews of computer hardware/software bid procurements; the research, analysis, and recommendations for fare collection; and more. In addition, as part of transit facility design projects, RLS also provides input and guidance into the technology needs and requirements for these facilities.
Transit Service Design
RLS & Associates, Inc. offers full scale planning services, assisting clients with a variety of planning assistance, including the development and design of new transit service; operational planning to assess current operations and make recommendations for improvement and expansion; and strategic planning to help guide and direct transit service in the future. Service and operational planning both include a comprehensive assessment of existing service, an extensive public input process, culminating in a 3-5 year plan for service improvement/expansion with a step by step implementation and financial plan.
RLS has worked with over 30 tribes across the country and is experienced in the subtle and distinct differences between working in tribal territories versus rural or small urban areas, even though tribes face some of the same challenges as non-tribal jurisdictions when it comes to transit planning, technical assistance and Federal compliance. RLS staff understand the use of tribal transit funding, government to government relationships, and tribal sovereignty. RLS has assisted tribes with transit service design and development of coordinated approaches with other tribal programs like Indian Health Services, Elder Programs, and casinos. With a focus on access to healthcare, employment, education, shopping and wellness programs, RLS can work with tribal transportation departments and tribal governments to develop solutions beneficial to tribal members and surrounding communities, such as the transit plan for the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
Nathan Bubash Technical Analyst Mr. Bubash works out of the Dayton office as RLS’ Technical Analyst. He specializes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and his recent projects include the MVRPC Coordination and the West Virginia Coordination Plan. He has a B.S. in...
Robbie L. Sarles President Ms. Robbie Sarles, President, and founder of RLS & Associates, Inc., has worked over 37 years in the transit industry in progressively responsible positions, in both public and private sectors. Since founding RLS in 1987 in Dayton, Ohio, she...
Mr. Ray Boylston Senior Associate Mr. Ray Boylston works out of the RLS Raleigh, North Carolina office. He has over 30 years of experience in transit planning, management, operations, and finance at the state, county, and municipal levels, in both the public and...
Laura Brown Senior Associate Ms. Laura Brown works in Sumter, South Carolina and is the Senior Associate for RLS’ coordination and planning projects. Ms. Brown has a diverse background of transit planning and financial management and analysis experience as well as a...
Charles Glover Senior Associate Mr. Charles Glover works out of the RLS Raleigh, North Carolina office and has over 39 years of public transportation experience, with extensive expertise in the planning and development of coordinated transportation services and...
Julie Schafer Senior Associate Ms. Julie Schafer is located in the Dayton Headquarters. A former Section 5311 transit manager of a seven-county public transit system in rural Indiana, she has over 18 years of experience, 15 years of that in transit system operations...
Kelly Shawn Senior Associate Mr. Kelly Shawn is located in the RLS Alexandria, Virginia office. With over 31 years in the transit industry, Mr. Shawn is an experienced trainer, facilitator, and project manager with extensive expertise in small urban, rural, and tribal...
Christy Campoll Associate Ms. Christy Campoll is located in the RLS Indianapolis, Indiana office. As a former transit manager and transportation vice president, Ms. Campoll managed a successful rural, demand response transit system in central Indiana. This $1.5...
Rosamary Amiet Quality Assurance Editor Ms. Rosamary Amiet is a remote employee located near Columbus, Ohio who provides editing and quality assurance for RLS’ products and proposals. She retired in 2004 from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) with over 31...
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