ELYSBURG - The director of Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging said Wednesday there has been a lot of negative feedback from local users of Rabbittransit, the agency that coordinates shared-ride services in Northumberland, York and Adams counties.

"Transportation is their (seniors') greatest need. Rabbittransit has to fix it. They have to get it right for our seniors. They certainly deserve it," Pat Rumberger said.

Rumberger said many people calling to schedule rides are waiting nearly 30 minutes before they talk to someone - and often those calls are dropped - and trips are not being scheduled in a way that is acceptable to them.

"We want people to get where they want to go, and that's not happening right now," she said.

Her comments were made following a media release from Rabbittransit Wednesday afternoon that highlighted an update from the company.

Automated dispatching of elderly transportation services began Sept. 10 in Northumberland County as the state continues to evaluate new paratransit scheduling software. Rabbittransit's automated computer dispatch software is part of a PennDOT pilot program.

The goal for the statewide program is to streamline the shared ride process, provide better service to residents, allow transit systems to better coordinate services across county lines and ultimately become more efficient in operations.

Rabbittransit, which has an Elysburg office, was hired by the county to provide transportation services July 1, 2011, when the county's transportation department was shut down.

Rabbittransit Executive Director Richard Farr said there are many questions and issues in the beginning of any new program, and the company has been actively addressing those concerns since the first day.

In fact, he said, the average wait time for phone calls is now down to six minutes, and Monday's average wait time was four minutes.

"We're making improvements. In the first week, the phone systems failed us. We can't afford the staffing we should have," he said.

Improve with time

Since the inception of the Northumerland County launch, the shared ride program on-time performance has increased from 68 percent on day one to nearly 90 percent as of Friday, and they expect this measurement to fluctuate as it moves through implementation, he said.

The problems shouldn't be as severe in week four as they were in week one, and will eventually be worked out completely as time goes on, he said.

One of the biggest obstacles, according to Rabbittransit, is the idea of change to the shared ride system.

Drivers will rotate routes depending upon the scheduling and passengers who sometimes rode together may see different faces because of the new way of grouping passengers, according to the release.

Shared ride programs are not able to afford providing customized or individualized services and instead are designed to group people together, which can cause longer ride times. The benchmark for the average trip length is 2.5 times the time and distance it would take if someone drove alone, the release said.

For example, if a trip to a doctor's office takes 30 minutes by personal car, shared-ride passengers should expect the same trip to take approximately 75 minutes.

An automated call system will be implemented to trigger calls the night before a customer's trip and provide an estimated pick-up time, and will offer automated imminent arrival calls in which a call will alert persons with disabilities and senior citizens 15 minutes before the vehicle will arrive.

The project is also slated to implement a web-based application that will allow passengers to manage their trips online, make reservations and cancellations and track trips in real time.

Since the software will be used on a statewide and regional level, the goal is to share trips with neighboring transit providers and provide better service for residents.

Meeting planned

Rumberger and Farr will be having a meeting to discuss the progress of the system in October.

"I have faith in Richard Farr that he will make it right. Right now, I feel bad for our seniors. I wish I could fix it, but I can't," Rumberger said.

The problems have been presented to Area Agency on Aging daily, and the agency has been forwarding all complaints to Rabbittransit, she said.

Problems should be reported to Rabbittransit because the system is "very data and scientific driven," Farr said.

All reservations for the shared ride program are entered into a system that schedules driver routes. Additionally, vehicles are outfitted with mobile data terminals with GPS technology.

Customers and human service providers with questions are encouraged to call their customer service center at 1-800-632-9063.