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COTA ADA Compliance Review - November 15, 2007

Location: Columbus, OH
Date of Final Report:  November 15, 2007     

Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) Transmittal Letter

November 15, 2007     
Re: ADA Compliance Review of COTA ADA Complementary Paratransit Service

Dear Mr. Lhota:

Thank you for your response to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) letter and preliminary report of findings of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) Complementary Paratransit Service Compliance Review conducted at the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) from February 6 to 9, 2007.  Enclosed is the Final Report that incorporates COTA’s official response by attachment.  As of the date of this letter the Final Report became a public document and is subject to dissemination under the Freedom of Information Act of 1974.

Enclosed with this letter is a progress table listing FTA’s understanding of the corrective actions either planned or taken by COTA in response to the preliminary findings contained in the draft report.  If you feel that our summarization of corrective actions is inconsistent with your response, please inform us in writing as soon as possible.

Based on our understanding of each of COTA’s responses to the findings, we have:

  • Identified whether the response adequately addresses the finding
  • Requested any needed documentation of results and outcomes
  • Requested, when appropriate, that COTA clarify specific corrective actions in response to the finding

Please use the enclosed table as the format to report progress to FTA on the corrective actions that COTA has completed or intends to implement as a result of our findings.  Please identify each response by item number (e.g., 1.1, etc.).  The requested documentation, along with updates on the status of implementation of proposed corrective actions, should be provided in quarterly reports to FTA.  Each report should include the planned and actual completion date of the corrective action; the current status and contact person information for each corrective action; and specific reporting requests cited in this letter and on the enclosed table.  The first report will be due on January 15, 2007, and should include data for the months of July through September 2007, and any actions completed prior to that date that have not already been addressed.

Additional reports addressing the remaining open findings will be due by April 15, 2008, July 15, 2008 and each calendar quarter thereafter until FTA releases COTA from this reporting requirement.  FTA will attempt to respond to each quarterly report that it receives from COTA, but please note that quarterly reports are due from COTA regardless of whether FTA has responded to the previous report.

We recognize the progress that you have made in responding to the findings of the review as presented in your August 30, 2007 e-mail.  In addition to these efforts, we request that your first progress report more fully respond to the following findings, which are also addressed in the progress table.

1.  Service Criteria and Complaint Handling Process

1.   Finding.  COTA’s policy of providing a base level of curb-to-curb service and then providing additional assistance as needed meets regulatory requirements.  Most of the time the processes for recording and providing additional assistance appear to work.  There was some evidence from riders and drivers that the need for additional assistance sometimes may not be requested or may not be recorded on run manifests.  COTA may find it helpful to review and strengthen these procedures.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA:  COTA will continue to work with contractors to ensure passenger requests are being met. COTA will also continue to work with customers to remind them of the importance of stating if help is needed during the reservations process.                     

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please provide a description in the next quarterly progress report of the specific steps being taken with contractors and customers to address this issue (e.g., additional public information, more specific reservation procedures, additional employee training, etc.).

3.   Finding.  COTA does not appear to have a formal process for double-checking the geo-coding of addresses when trips are denied because they are outside the service area and riders ask for these decisions to be reviewed.  COTA staff appear to do a review if a rider questions the accuracy of the system’s geo-coding, but no documentation of these reviews is kept.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA:  The Process:

  • Trip in question is brought to COTA’s attention.
  • Information is passed on to the COTA Planning Department. The trip is geo-coded and printed out on a map with the corresponding 3/4-mile fixed route corridor by same hours of service.
  • Information whether the trip is ADA or not ADA is provided to transportation provider.
  • A periodic review will occur before schedule changes to ensure map is consistent with service. Documentation will be maintained.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In the next quarterly progress report, please identify who at the service provider will be responsible for coordinating the recording of rider requests for trip eligibility checks, passing the information along to the Planning Department, getting information back from the Planning Department, and maintaining documentation of checks.  Also, indicate how findings from the checks will be communicated back to the riders who have requested the checks. Additionally, please indicate how many requests for checks have been received since August 2007 and how many of those requests have resulted in reversals of the initial decision concerning service area.

2.  ADA Complementary Paratransit Eligibility

5.   Finding.  COTA’s late cancellation policy considers cancellations to be late if notice is provided less than four hours before the scheduled pickup.  The regulations allow transit systems to suspend service for a reasonable period for riders who abuse the system by regularly “no-showing” for scheduled trips.  While transit agencies have in recent years also considered “late cancellations” to be an abuse of the system and have considered this in their suspension policies, in order to be allowed under the DOT ADA regulations, the effects of such a late cancellation must be operationally equivalent to a no-show in terms of the negative impact on the service.  A cancellation made three to four hours before a ride is scheduled does not seem to pose the same level of operational impact as a no-show.  To the contrary, the slack time created by a cancellation that far in advance in many cases can be used to assist with other trips.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA:  COTA is currently reviewing this process. The recommendation is being taken under advisement.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In the next quarterly progress report, please propose a corrective action to address this finding.

7.   Finding.  COTA’s no-show policy imposes suspensions on riders for no-showing three or more times per month for two or more months in any given year.  Considering only three no-shows in a one month period to be excessive and an abuse of the service may unreasonably limit service to ADA eligible customers.  Appendix D of 49 CRF Part 37 states that suspensions of eligibility for no-shows are intended to prevent a “pattern or practice of ‘no-shows.’”  It is further noted, “a pattern or practice involves intentional, repeated or regular actions, not isolated, accidental or singular incidents.”

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA:  The Mobility Services department investigates each no-show or cancel at the door individually.  When a no-show or cancel at the door is deemed legitimate, the Mobility Specialist sends the customer a post card or calls the customer stating that our records indicate a trip was missed and that if they disagree with our records, please call.  This gives the customer the opportunity to provide more information and clarity to the information provided to the dispatcher who entered the no-show or cancel at the door.  The Mobility Specialist determines if the violation is legitimate or should be excused.  The Mobility Specialist uses the information provided by Trapeze reports and information provided by the customers themselves as to whether a pattern has developed.  If a pattern has developed then the customer is issued a warning letter and may lose service if the pattern continues. There is also an Appeals process which the customer may exercise if he/she disagrees with the decision.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In the next quarterly progress report, please explain in more detail the sentence in the proposed corrective action “The Mobility Specialist uses the information provided by Trapeze reports and information provided by the customers themselves as to whether a pattern has developed.”  What guidelines are used by the Mobility Specialist to determine if there is a “pattern or practice of ‘no-shows’”?  Is the guideline of three or more no-shows per month in two or more months in any given year still used or is a different guideline used?  Is the frequency of no-shows—the number of no-shows compared to the total trip making history—considered?

3.  Telephone Access

4.   Finding.  Current telephone performance reports do not show the hold time distributions for those calls that are on hold more than 50 seconds.  Also, the current reports provide aggregate hold time distributions for the entire week without a breakdown of the data by day of week and hour of the day.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: COTA is implementing a call center performance that will require the contractor to provide call distribution reports broken down by hour, day, week and year.  These reports will also include abandoned calls by minute up to 4 minutes.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please verify that the reports will track hold times for each hour, day, etc., according to the number or percentage of calls still on hold after 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and over 4 minutes.  Please also verify that the reports will track the number or percentage of calls abandoned after 1 minute, etc.

Reporting:  Please provide an update on the implementation of this proposed corrective action in the next quarterly progress report.

5.   Finding.  Riders indicated that hold times can be long in the mornings.  Review team observations indicated hold times of up to four minutes on the morning of Friday, February 9.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: The call center performance monitoring in previous finding 3.4.  Will include contractor to report and review hold times broken down by day and time of day.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In addition to monitoring, please indicate what actions will be taken if long hold times are observed at certain times of the day.
Reporting:  Please provide an update on the implementation of this proposed corrective action in the next quarterly progress report.

6.   Finding. Riders also indicated that some calls to dispatch go unanswered in the late evenings.  According to the dispatchers’ schedule, after 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and at almost all hours on weekends, only one dispatcher is on duty.  Dispatchers indicated that when they step away from the phones, calls can go unanswered.  They indicated that they generally try to get someone else in the building to cover while they step away, but that this is not always done.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: In January 2008, COTA plans to expand the hours for COTA Connection and reservations for paratransit service. This will include expanding hours for the weekend as well. There will be no need to route calls to the Dispatch office in the future since reservations staff will be available.        

Clarification of Corrective Action: Although the proposed corrective action will ensure that more calls are answered, unless reservation hours are expanded to be the same as the full hours of operation, which would seem to be unlikely, some calls would still need to be directed to dispatch during operating hours when the reservations area is closed.  These remaining calls that do not go to reservationists could go unanswered.  Please indicate what actions will be taken to address the finding that a lack of phone coverage in dispatch at some hours (particularly late evening hours after the reservation area is closed) caused phone calls to go unanswered.

Reporting: Please provide an update on the implementation of this proposed corrective action and any additional corrective actions in the next quarterly progress report.

4.  Trip Reservations and Scheduling

2.   Finding. It is COTA’s current policy not to place ADA paratransit trips requests on “standby” (a form of wait list).  It appears, though, that trips were wait-listed in the past.  Some reservationists appear to have continued to place some ADA trips on the “standby” list as recently as fall 2006.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: COTA current policy does not allow for a stand by list for ADA customers.  COTA is in the process of purchase software that will allow monitoring of call takers. This will ensure compliance and also be helpful for training staff.

COTA is working with the contractor to reduce the number of customers who have requested subscription service. This is an area that will be monitored monthly.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  FTA interprets the second paragraph of the proposed corrective action to mean that COTA is working with the contractor to reduce the size of the waiting list for subscription service by granting more subscription requests.  Please verify that this interpretation is correct.
Reporting:  Please provide an update on the implementation of the proposed call-taker monitoring software.  Also, please provide the results of monitoring using this software, specifically indicate whether the monitoring identified any call-takers placing ADA callers on “standby.”

5.   Finding.  If a caller is offered a trip within one hour of the requested time and the trip is not taken, it is marked as “Refused.”  If the rider subsequently calls back to request a similar trip, it is COTA’s policy that the trip will only be served on a standby basis.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: COTA’s previous policy was to keep booking the trips that were refused. There were instances where customers requested 5 or more trips with the same origin and destination in the same time frame after an ADA compliant trip offer was refused. This resulted in ADA denials for Trips that had been prior legitimate ADA refused offers.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please indicate a corrective action for the finding that ADA riders who had previously decided not to accept an offered travel time for a trip were given only standby status if they subsequently called and asked for a similar trip.  COTA should maintain adequate capacity to serve all ADA trip requests on a “next day” basis.  If a rider calls several days in advance, is offered a trip, but decides not to take the time offered, there should be no penalty to calling back at a later time to see if a better scheduling option is available for the same trip.  Since the original trip offer was “refused,” it was not added to the schedule and has not taken any capacity.  COTA should then be able to accommodate a similar trip if this rider calls back at a later time.

7.   Finding.  Reservationists were not consistent in booking trip requests for which the caller provided an appointment time.  Sometimes reservationists entered the appointment time into Trapeze, while other times they entered a time that was 15 minutes earlier to create a “cushion.”

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: The following procedure has been implemented.

Appointment (LT) Times

The following procedures are to be applied when putting in an appointment time in the destination (LT) field for a customer:
Example

  •  If John Doe’s requested appointment time is at 8:00, please type in 7:45 am in the destination (LT) field, this will allowed John Doe to arrive #15 minutes prior to his requested 8:00 am appointment time and no later than his 7:45 (LT) time.
  • In the Origin (Req.) field, John Doe’s request time can not be scheduled any later than one hour before his 8:00 am requested appointment time which would be a 7:00 am requested pickup time.

COTA staff will continue to monitor this process.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  The proposed procedure still appears to instruct reservationists to place a “cushioned” appointment time in the Destination (LT) field as well as a “requested” time in the Origin (Req) field.  In fact, if the customer has only indicated an appointment time, there is no requested pickup time and the time in the Origin (Req) field is a time selected by COTA.  Entering a time one hour before the appointment time in the Origin (Req) field could then result in trips being scheduled up to two hours before the appointment time (6:00 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. appointment if 7:00 a.m. is entered in the Origin – Req field).  As discussed during the on-site visit, it is recommended that COTA consider the following procedure with Trapeze: enter the appointment time in the Destination (LT) field; also enter this time in the Destination (Req) field, toggle on the “Activate for Requested Drop-Off” option, and then let Trapeze generate an appropriate pickup time based on the desired arrival time.  Along with good maximum travel time parameters that are scaled for trips of varying length, this should result in more appropriate scheduled pick-up times.  FTA is available to discuss this issue in more detail with COTA staff.

Also, “cushioning” the appointment time by 15 minutes will mask the real appointment times in the trip record.  COTA should discuss with Trapeze the option of entering the actual appointment time in the Destination (LT) field and then setting an on-time window for drop-offs with the desired “cushion,” e.g., -30/-15 (which would be instructing Trapeze to schedule the trip so that the actual drop-off will take place from 30 minutes before the actual appointment time to 15 minutes before the actual appointment time.

8.   Finding.  COTA does not appear to instruct reservationists to use the “Earliest Time” (ET) feature in Trapeze when booking return trips where the rider cannot leave earlier than the requested pickup time.  Not using this feature may cause Trapeze to generate solutions that might not meet riders’ trip needs.  While reservationists are trained to not insist that riders take these times if it is indicated the times do not meet trip needs, allowing these times to be generated and potentially quoted to callers could result in some inappropriate trip offers.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: A Trapeze PASS upgrade is scheduled early 2008.  This should help with scheduling issues.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In addition to planning an upgrade to the Trapeze system, please indicate what specific actions will be taken to address the finding that reservationists do not use the “Earliest Time” (ET) scheduling feature, which can result in return trip pickup time offers that are earlier than a rider is able to leave.  Note that it is our understanding that this feature exists on the version of Trapeze currently used by COTA.

9.   Finding. When a caller provided a requested appointment time, reservationists would create a pickup time one hour before the appointment time and use it to schedule the trip request.  This practice could result in very early pickups and very early drop-offs, depending on the actual length of the trip.  This practice also could be leading the Trapeze system to find some trips not ADA eligible.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: This will be resolved with the upgrade of Trapeze PASS to version 7.  COTA currently has Trapeze 4.61.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In addition to planning an upgrade to the Trapeze system, please indicate what specific actions will be taken to address the finding that reservationists are entering a fabricated “requested pickup time” one hour before the appointment time that can result in excessively early pickups and drop-offs.  In addition to the comments in Finding #4.8 above, COTA should consider reviewing and revising travel time parameters and drop-off window parameters to ensure that drop-offs are not scheduled too early.

5.  Service Performance

2.   Finding.  Based on an analysis of a one-day sample of 157 completed trips (roughly 25 percent of all trips for that day), COTA was on time or early for 91.7 percent of it pickups.  Of the late trips, 6.4 percent were up to 15 minutes late and 1.9 percent (three trips from the sample) were between 16 and 30 minutes late.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: COTA continues to monitor service daily to ensure the contractor provides service to acceptable standards and above.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please provide more detailed information about operational actions taken or planned to increase on-time performance from the observed 91.7 percent to the range considered acceptable by COTA standards (93 to 98 percent).

4.   Finding. Based on a subset of 66 completed trips with requested drop-off times from the one-day sample, on-time performance for drop-offs was 87.9 percent.  It is possible that actual performance—from the perspective of the rider—may be more favorable, as some reservationists indicated that when a caller gives an appointment time, the reservationists enter a drop-off time into Trapeze that is 15 minutes earlier.  However, if this is a common practice, then the proportion of drop-offs that are very early could be significant.  The analysis indicates the 53 percent of trips with requested drop-offs were at least 15 minutes early.  Adding that 15-minute cushion would mean that 53 percent of trips were at least 30 minutes early.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: After the scheduled Trapeze upgrade this issue should be resolved.

The 15 minutes is to cushion for unexpected traffic, weather, etc.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  In addition to planning an upgrade to the Trapeze system, please indicate what specific actions will be taken to address the finding that current procedures are causing very early drop-offs.  As suggested in Findings #4.7 and #4.9 of the “Trip Reservations and Scheduling” section above, some suggested actions are: revising on-board travel time parameters to be appropriate for trips of varying length; establishing a drop-off window that will prevent trips from being scheduled for drop-off too early; using the drop-off window settings (rather than the 15-minute “cushion” to ensure trips are scheduled for drop-off before the appointment time); and using the “Activate for Requested Drop-Off” scheduling feature in Trapeze.  FTA is available to discuss this issue with COTA in more detail.

7.   Finding.  COTA does not have a goal or target percentage of paratransit trips that must meet the travel time standards in its contract with First Transit, but has informally agreed upon a standard of no more than 5 percent of trips in each distance category to exceed maximum on-board travel times.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA:                 COTA has an on-going monitoring process regarding on board times. The contractor is required to provide written summary and recommendations on corrective actions of trips that do not meet standards.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please indicate what performance standards and/or acceptable performance ranges are used to decide if corrective actions to decrease travel times are required by the contractor.  The proposed corrective action to Finding #5.10 in the reporting chart appears to suggest that a 0 percent excessively long-trip goal is used and that a 5 percent or less performance tolerance is being considered.

12. Finding. While COTA has both mobile data computers and automatic vehicle location technology, neither is integrated with the Trapeze scheduling and dispatch system.  As a consequence, dispatchers spend significant amounts of time manually transferring data from one system to the other.  Additionally, they are prevented from utilizing the valuable “dispatch” screen that is in Trapeze.  This dispatch screen shows all upcoming trips for all runs and highlights any that are predicted to be late.  This gives dispatchers the ability to focus primarily on runs and drivers that need assistance.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA:                 Recommendation will be taken under advisement.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please provide an update on COTA’s review of this finding and indicate what corrective action will be taken to address the finding that dispatchers are spending significant amounts of time manually transferring data and are prevented from using key features in Trapeze that would allow for more efficient tracking of runs due to the lack of integration of the Trapeze and MDT/AVL technologies.

13. Finding.  Dispatchers attempt to call riders about trips that were scheduled by the scheduler the evening before, but whom the scheduler was not able to reach by phone.  The trips are left on vehicle runs even if the dispatchers do not contact the riders.  Dispatchers acknowledged that this could sometimes result in vehicles going for pickups when the rider has never been notified that their standby trip was scheduled.

Corrective Action Proposed by COTA: This is being taken under advisement to develop a better method.

Clarification of Corrective Action:  Please provide an update on COTA’s review of this finding and indicate what corrective action will be taken to address this finding.

We recognize the efforts that COTA has already taken to correct the deficiencies identified in the draft report, and we anticipate your continued endeavors to take further corrective actions as noted in this letter.  We appreciate the cooperation and assistance that you and your staff have provided us during this review.  If you have any questions about this matter, please contact me or Mr. Jonathan Klein, Equal Opportunity Specialist, at (202) 366‑0809 or at his e-mail address: jonathan.klein@dot.gov.

It would also be very helpful to us if you would provide a copy of all correspondence to this office to the FTA Region V Civil Rights Officer at the following address:

Mr. Dwight Sinks
Civil Rights Officer, Region V
Federal Transit Administration       
200 West Adams Street, Suite 320
Chicago, IL 60606

Sincerely,

David W. Knight
ADA Team Leader

Enclosures

cc:  Marisol Simon, FTA Region V Administrator
Dwight Sinks, FTA Region V Civil Rights Officer
Dominick J. Gatto, FTA Region V Director of Program Management & Oversight

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