Recommendations

In crafting the 5-Year Transit Strategic Development Plan, 19 preliminary recommendations have been identified.  These recommendations reflect input received from actual transit riders; the community at-large; community and social service organizations throughout the Casper area; the CATC board of directors; and staff from the Casper Area MPO, City of Evansville, City of Mills, and Natrona County.

For discussion purposes, the preliminary recommendations have been segregated into four categories:  Operations, Policy, Capital, and Marketing/Outreach.  Each of the 19 preliminary recommendations will be discussed during the project’s virtual workshop scheduled for Monday, March 22, 2021 starting at 6:00 pm MT.

Comments and/or questions regarding the overall 5-Year Transit Strategic Development Plan project or any of the preliminary recommendations may be emailed to Jeremy Yates at jyates@casperwy.gov or submitted via the Contact Us page.  Such questions and/or comments will become part of the project’s public record; and as such may be included in the draft and/or final project report as well as associated presentations. 

Operations

  1. Implement real-time predictive arrival app.

Knowing when the bus will arrive at a given stop is a very important information feature for any public transit service. Not only can it reduce the volume of customer calls/queries, it can also lead to increased customer satisfaction while also improving on-time performance monitoring.

The largest investment required to realize implementation of this recommendation is the purchase and installation of Automatic Vehicle Location hardware or equipment on each of the fixed-route vehicles. This must be completed before any real-time customer application can be introduced. Once the AVL hardware is in place, the City/MPO can enter into an agreement with an app vendor that will synchronize the AVL data with a General Transit Feed Specifications (GTFS) feed.  Ultimately the consultant recommends the City/MPO submit the transit feed data to Google to allow access by transit customers.

While there may be a benefit to equipping the paratransit fleet with AVL technology, the consultant recommends the City/MPO focus on the fixed-route fleet (at least initially).

2. Identify opportunities to enhance transit service to/in East Casper

Transit access to the VA Clinic was impacted by the Clinic’s relocation to 6000 East Second Street, a location not currently within reasonable walking distance of a fixed-route bus stop.  This is particularly problematic given one of the reasons for the Clinic relocation was the availability of a larger facility, which in turn is expected to support increased client visit activity.

Since early 2021, MPO staff has been in discussion with representees of the VA Clinic to assess likely demand for fixed-route service patronage, and to identify other mobility options which may more effectively address the specific mobility needs of persons visiting the clinic to access healthcare services.

Although the initial focus was the VA Clinic, over time these discussions have expanded to include other employers, businesses, and community organizations located in East Casper. 

3. Establish a bus stop near the Wyoming Rescue Mission.

Information gathered through the various community engagement activities revealed appreciable actual as well as latent demand for transit service by individuals utilizing the Wyoming Rescue Mission. 

As such the consultant recommends the MPO establish a bus stop on Park Street in close proximity to the Wyoming Rescue Mission.  Given the anticipated activity level for said stop, the consultant recommends installation of bus stop amenities including signage, bench, shelter, and appropriate lighting.

4. Reduce the number of published schedule time-points.

At the time of the preparation of the 5-Year Transit Strategic Development Plan there were six routes and 125 bus stops.  Every bus stop was considered a schedule time-point, and therefore listed in the published service schedule/timetable.

Classifying every bus stop as a schedule time-point impacts on-time performance, vehicle recovery time (i.e., the time a vehicle “sits” at the end of the line before departing on the next run), and capital costs (i.e., it costs more to equip and maintain 125 bus stops than, say, 90 bus stops). Lastly, given the operating policy wherein a driver/vehicle is directed to never depart a time-point prior to the schedule time, vehicles were frequently observed sitting at a given bus stop “killing” time.

Ideally schedule time-points should be spread relatively evenly across a given route. They should also be tied to key locations (i.e., trip generators).

Utilizing the data from the project ride check, the consultant recommends the City/MPO identify up to ten locations on each route as potential schedule time-points; and list said locations/time-points within future transit service informational materials. Based on its professional experience the consultant believes the majority of transit riders will quickly come to understand the new schedule policy, and successfully estimate when a bus will arrive at a given bus stop. This process would be further expedited should the City/MPO elect to move forward with the recommended predictive arrival app.

5. Implement service to the airport on a trial basis.

Desire for some form of public transit service to/from the Casper-Natrona County Airport was revealed through the various surveys conducted in support of the 5-Year Transit Strategic Development Plan. At present, persons arriving or departing the airport have three practical transport options: 1) drive or ride in a personal vehicle, 2) taxi or similar shuttle, or 3) rent a car.

Many communities, large and small alike, provide some form of public transport to their respective community airport. Beyond the obvious mobility aspect, these communities realize the promotional value which the connecting service can play in attracting visitors and business activities.

Given the absence of definitive ridership demand forecasts, the consultant recommends the City/MPO approach this service enhancement on a trial basis (90-120 days), and start with an on-demand model instead of the more traditional fixed-route/scheduled service. Should the City/MPO elect to introduce this community mobility enhancement, the consultant  also recommends appropriate supporting marketing/promotional activities.

6. Designate Smith’s as a time-transfer location.

At the time of this report’s preparation, the Yellow and Purple routes served the Smith’s Center (State Route 220/CY Avenue and W. Coffman Avenue). Additionally, the Green route terminated at Kit Carson Ave/Fleetwood Place, which is within very close proximity to the Smith’s Center.

By extending the Green Route to Smith’s, and creating a schedule to support timed-transfers between the three routes (Purple, Yellow, Green) will streamline travel opportunities for many riders as well as enhance the attractiveness of public transit as a travel alternative for a portion of the Casper community.

The consultant recommends the City/MPO work with Smith’s corporate staff to realize this objective.

7. Extend Red Route to the Eastridge Mall.

At present, The Bus utilizes a combination of one central transfer point the Downtown Transit Center (DTC) and a series of “informal” transfer locations (e.g., Eastridge Mall, Walmart West, Smith’s). The “combined” approach is beneficial to The Bus riders as it eliminates the need to travel all the way to the downtown facility in order to make a bus-to-bus connection. (Note: At the time of the TSDP preparation 40.8 percent of surveyed riders indicated making at least one transfer in order to complete the surveyed ride.)

At present, the Red Route’s eastern terminus is East 15th Street/Bretton near the Quail Run Apartments. Upon reaching this location, the bus turns around and retraces its path back to the DTC. To facilitate connections with the Blue and Orange Routes, the consultant recommends extending the Red Route to the Eastridge Mall (Bed, Bath, and Beyond). The bus would then turn northward on State Road 258 (SE Wyoming Blvd), which runs into the Eastridge Mall parking lot.

Implementation of this recommendation would require retiming of the Red Route. However, the consultant believes rider access to the Mall as well as connections with the Blue and Orange Routes represent important benefits.

Policy

8. Create/implement monthly pass program (or other non-cash fare media).

Based on the onboard survey of The Bus, 47.1 percent use the service at least four days in a typical week, and 25.1 percent paid for the surveyed ride using cash. Further, 62.8 percent of riders had an annual household income of less than 25,000 dollars (excluding youth or student riders). Taken collectively this translates to a very high degree of transit-dependency among The Bus’ core ridership. Lastly, at the time of the service evaluation there was no transfer policy in place.

Introduction of non-cash fare media such as a monthly pass or a multi-ride ticket offers benefits to both the customer/rider and the service provider. For the rider, there is both convenience as well as (likely) savings. For the operator, non-cash fare media typically translates to increased customer loyalty, improved on-time performance (as a result of decreased rider boarding time), and reduced administrative burden (reduced time spent reconciling fare media, etc.) Introduction of a monthly pass may also reduce the incidence of fare evasion. Lastly, transitioning to some form of contactless fare payment is increasingly important given concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a transit program the scope and size of Casper, the consultant recommends starting with a monthly pass which would provide unlimited rides on the fixed-route service within a given calendar month. Monthly passes are typically priced at the (base fare) equivalent of twenty-one rides. (For “The Bus” the consultant recommends the City/MPO consider an initial pricing of twenty-five dollars for the base fare pass.)

Given the technology limitations associated with the current transit fleet the consultant recommends employing business-card size “tickets” which are color-coded by month. This approach would minimize the verification burden of driver staff, reduce the cost of fare media production, and allow the pass to be carried by the rider in a clear holder attached to a lanyard. While the City/MPO could potentially produce/print the fare media in-house, there are also a number of transit specialty printers available.

9. Adopt and implement a transfer policy.

Through the onboard/rider survey conducted in support of the Transit Strategic Development Plan it was revealed that 40.8 percent of the riders surveyed indicated making a connection/transfer in order to complete the surveyed trip. At the time of the TSDP preparation, the City/MPO did not have a transit transfer policy. Given the relatively high incidence of transfer (as well as the relatively high level of transit-dependency exhibited by The Bus riders), the consultant recommends the City/MPO consider implementation of a bus-to-bus transfer policy, that is, not covering Dial-a-Ride-to-bus transfers.

Typically, transfers are either provided at no cost (contingent upon payment of a fare) or at a reduced cost (i.e., less than the full price of a second ride). Transfers are typically limited to a single direction of travel (i.e., not to be used to complete a round trip) and for a specified effectivity period (i.e., 60 minutes).

Provision of a transfer program offers a variety of benefits including 1) positioning public transit as an attractive travel alternative for a larger share of the community, 2) making travel by transit more affordable (particularly important given the reported annual household income of the profile “The Bus” customer), 3) improved on-time operation by reducing boarding time, and 4) reduced administrative burden (i.e., reduction in cash fare reconciliation).

Riders utilizing a monthly pass would not be subject to a new transfer policy given the pass, (as recommended would provide unlimited rides within a given calendar month. However, the City/MPO would need to issue some form of transfer/proof of fare payment for those riders paying a cash fare. Fortunately, there are a variety of “off-the shelf” printed transfers available for purchase.

10. Develop a bus stop “adoption”/sponsorship program.

Bus stops are the “front door” of a public transit service. If bus stops are perceived as unsafe, unfriendly, or uninviting, it becomes very difficult to attract new riders let alone retain existing ones. Based on the consultants familiarization tour of The Bus service area/routes, it believes the majority of bus stops warrant improvement.

Effective bus stops come in a variety of “flavors”, ranging from a simple sign on a pole to a location featuring a bench, shelter, and lighting. As such, the “development” costs range from a few hundred dollars (e.g., pole and sign) to thousands of dollars (e.g., shelter and lighting). Further, in addition to initial costs, there typically is an ongoing maintenance or upkeep cost.

Enhanced bus stops serve as a magnet for ridership (and hence fare revenue) growth. Bus stops perceived as inviting/safe/visually-appealing translate to a perception of increased value not only in the minds of transit riders but also the community at-large. So how might Casper and its project/funding partners realize this benefit? One option would be to establish a mechanism whereby local businesses, employers, community service organizations, etc. can be enlisted to aid in bus stop upkeep. In exchange for such “sponsorship,” the City/MPO could install a small plaque recognizing the benefactor.

Capital

11. Upgrade dispatching software to support off-site dispatching.

At the time of the consultant’s program/service evaluation, all dispatching activities were performed by CATC staff at the CATC headquarters. And while this approach has likely proven to be adequate for many years, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic warrant reconsideration. Specifically, if the CATC headquarters building became contaminated due to the COVID-19 virus as it currently stands, all dispatching activity would come to a halt. In other words, there is no back-up system in place to support/allow remote or off-site dispatching.

At a minimum, the consultant recommends the City/MPO work with the current dispatch software vendor to establish a “cloud” account. The consultant also recommends purchase of a backup desktop which can be set up at a remote location (with internet access) to support seamless dispatching should the need arise.

12. Purchase/install Mobile Display Terminals in each vehicle.

At the time of the 5-Year Transit Strategic Development Plan’s preparation, the MPO/City transit fleet utilized hand-held radios and simple “vault style” fareboxes. Through discussions with MPO staff, the consultant learned that a grant has recently been submitted to fund the purchase and installation of a Mobile Display Terminal (MDT) on each transit vehicle.

MDT’s offer a variety of benefits including enhanced data collection and reporting, and streamlined dispatch-driver communications.

13. Implement Bus Stop Improvement Plan.

As noted under Recommendation 14, the important role which quality, safe bus stops can play in the creation of a successful public transit program cannot be overstated. Simply put, bus stops are the “front door” of a community’s public transit service. They are an investment required to retain existing customers as well as attract new ones.

Based on various field observations, the current collection of 125 bus stops range from poor to fair. At a minimum, every bus stop should include a pole, bus stop sign, and basic service information (i.e., route identifier, transit information phone number, website URL, and predictive arrival app once available/in place). Each of the bus stops should be categorized based on average daily activity level: low, medium, or high. “Low” activity bus stops warrant the basics (i.e., pole and sign). “Medium” activity stops get the basics plus a bench. “High” activity stops warrant the basics plus a shelter. Again, bus stop improvements should be viewed as an investment, not merely an expenditure.

Given the scope of this improvement, the consultant recommends the City/MPO adopt a multi-year work plan wherein a target number of individual bus stops are addressed annually, so that across a period of 7 to 10 years the entire bus stop network is improved. There are often grants available to assist with such project, as well as participation (sponsorship) opportunities from local business, education, and community service organizations. Progress toward this goal should be tracked on a quarterly basis, and progress shared with both transit customers and the community at-large.

The Bus Stop Improvement Plan should also include improvements at the downtown Casper transit center. Two “immediate” needs come to mind: 1) improved and/or additional signage, and 2) access to/maintenance of a restroom for The Bus drivers.

Marketing/Outreach

14. Redesign transit service informational materials.

Based on the consultant’s evaluation of the current transit service information materials, it recommends design and production of route-specific service brochures, a system map, and a stand-alone paratransit (dial-a-ride) service brochure.

Each service brochure should include a schedule or timetable, (to-scale) route map, fare information, basic service details (i.e., service hours, service holidays, rider code of conduct), and effective date.  The consultant recommends employing a three-panel (8.5 x 11-inch) format to facilitate printing in-house. As a cost saving measure, two-color printing is recommended (i.e., basic black and accent color reflective of the route color/identifier).  The final design and color selection would comply with ADA guidance specific to visually-impaired persons.

One of the key benefits of route-specific service brochures is avoiding the need to print “all new” brochures should the City/MPO implement a service change to a single route/service.

The consultant recommends any redesign of service information materials also include their distribution. To accomplish this, the consultant recommends the City/MPO compile a distribution database to include public buildings, schools, medical/healthcare centers, senior/community centers, and social service organizations. Distribution locations should be monitored on a quarterly basis to ensure an adequate supply of transit information materials remains available.

15. Implement a Marketing Plan.

Preparation of an 18-month Transit Marketing Plan is included in the Scope of Work of the 5-Year Transit Strategic Development Plan. The cornerstone goal of the Marketing Plan is to identify marketing, advertising, public communications, and community engagement activities most likely to offer the greatest “return on investment”. Specific objectives of the Plan include increased ridership, increased fare revenue, and increased community awareness of and support for the City/MPO’s public transit program.

Implementation of the Marketing Plan can be done by City/MPO staff or through a contractual arrangement with a qualified consultant.  The consultant recommends the latter approach at least for the first year as the number and scope of recommended activities would likely exceed the capability of City/MPO staff.

The Marketing Plan will present proposed activities using phased approach. In other words, here are the five activities the consultant recommends the City/MPO undertake in the first six months, here are the five activities recommended for the next six months, etc.

In terms of budget, the consultant recommends that the City/MPO allocate no less than three percent of the total transit operating budget to marketing Year One. This is important given the anticipated scope of the recommended activities (e.g., new service identity, all new service materials, desire to regain ridership loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic). In future years, the consultant recommends allocating 1.5 to 2.0 percent of the total operating budget to marketing. While public transit is not a profit-driven service, it is reasonable to expect quantifiable “return on investment” for the expenditure of public funds.

16. Redesign Transit website.

For a variety of reasons, the consultant recommends the City/MPO assume responsibility for the ownership and maintenance of the Transit website.

Based on the consultant’s review of the current website as well as the project team’s 30-year transit specialization, the consultant believes the current website needs to be completely redesigned to make it more user-friendly as well as easier to navigate. A new Transit website, with a unique, easy-to-remember URL, should be designed and (also) maintained through links from the City’s main/primary website.

In contrast to the current site, the proposed version should reflect the new service identity or branding, feature individual route or service pages wherein schedule/timetable and to-scale route maps are presented together, inclusion of real-time vehicle location information (should the City/MPO decide to pursue this important customer amenity), rider behavior protocols, fare information, (potentially) online fare sales, and a customer comment/feedback mechanism.

17. Implement ongoing Travel Training program.

The community stakeholder survey (and to a lesser extent the community at-large survey) revealed an overall lack of awareness regarding the specifics of the City/MPO’s public transit service. For example, service days and hours, ride request process for dial-a-ride, location of nearest bus stops, etc. While implementation of the recommendation regarding redesign, production, and distribution of new service information materials will help mitigate some of these awareness/information gaps, the consultant believes many social service organizations’ clientele warrant an additional educational step: on-site mobility or travel training. This would involve a qualified MPO/City representative visiting social service locations throughout the transit service area to conduct short informational presentations, question/answer sessions, and “hands-on demonstrations” (e.g., how a wheelchair lift works, securing of mobility devices, how to pay for the transit ride, rider behavior protocol, etc.)

In conducting successful travel training activities across the past 20 years, our approach has included a “tool kit” of service materials, a supply of free-ride tickets, a short (large font) presentation/discussion guide, and question/comment cards (for attendees too shy to verbally ask questions). The consultant recommends limiting the group size to 12 and capping the session duration at 75 minutes. Given the likely target of the proposed travel training sessions would be mobility-limited/disadvantaged individuals, having an actual dial-a-ride vehicle and a driver also attend has helped break through the unfamiliarity or hesitancy barrier.

Finally, the consultant recommends (initially) conducting two sessions/month, preferably assigning the same “trainer” as there is a rhythm which will result following completion of the first few sessions.

18. Establish a Social Service Technical Advisory Committee.

The consultant believes the most successful public transit programs are customer-centric. Unfortunately, based on the results of the onboard survey as well as the community stakeholder survey, it appears many transit riders are unable or unwilling to effectively communicate their current and/or future mobility needs. These rider groups typically include seniors, persons with disabilities, veterans, and/or low-income individuals. As such, this underscores the important partner role which community social service organizations can play vis-à-vis the development of a successful public transit program. Further, the results of the community stakeholder survey indicate a willingness to learn more about the local public transit service as well as communicate the mobility needs and priorities of the various organizations’ clientele.

Given the preceding, the consultant recommends the City/MPO initiate quarterly information-sharing sessions between MPO/transit staff and representatives of the social service community. It is recommended such meetings follow a discussion agenda, that a “feature topic” or issue be used as a means for effective engagement, and that specific action items (for City/MPO/transit staff as well as social service organization staff/attendees) be identified and agreed upon. To be effective, such meetings need to have a clearly defined purpose/agenda, there needs to be opportunity for open discussion, and progress towards the group’s objectives need to be monitored and reported.

19. Rebrand the transit service.

While the current branding for The Bus/CATC is functional, many within the community perceive it as “tired” and not visually exciting. A new, visually appealing brand, coupled with a new look for the transit vehicles as well as bus stop signage would draw attention and serve to promote a new, refreshed transit service.

The consultant’s proposal included creation of up to three branding concepts, and development of the preferred concept should the City/MPO decide to move forward with the recommended service rebranding. Also included is a brand or style guide intended to support implementation as well as maintenance of the (potential) new service identity.

The recommended approach starts with development of a new brand including service names, color schemes, and logotypes. Including the community in the process would likely strengthen community ownership of the new service identity.

At a minimum, any new brand/service identity would be promoted via a media release and potentially a formal “unveiling” at a Casper city council meeting/session. Once a new brand is approved, bus stop signage and service information (including the transit website) would be revised/redesigned to reflect the new look. All bus stop signage as well as “transit center” signage would be replaced so as to reinforce the new brand.

The second and longest phase would be rebranding of the transit fleet. While the City/MPO may opt to rebrand the entire fleet at one time, the consultant recommends focusing on the newer vehicles initially, and the balance of the fleet as individual vehicles are replaced. This latter approach would allow for vehicle branding to be installed at or by the manufacturer, thereby incorporating the branding cost into the vehicle purchase (an expense typically covered by federal or state transit funding). This second approach would also reduce the administrative burden associated with vehicle procurement.

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