Mobile Computing Revs Up The Transit Market
From schools to public transit organizations, $20 million Trapeze Software Group has found a lucrative market for its scheduling and dispatching solutions.
7:15 a.m.: School children board their bus, which arrives at the same time, each weekday.
1 p.m.: A wheelchair-bound grandmother awaits the transport van that takes her to the hospital each week for her physical therapy appointments.
4:10 p.m.: Using a Web-enabled PDA (personal digital assistant), a sightseeing tourist determines the location of the nearest city bus and the closest bus stop on the route.
What do all of these events have in common? They each involve some type of scheduling and/or dispatching system that is designed to efficiently transport people. These systems include wireless technology, hardware (e.g. in-vehicle data collection terminals), and transport software (e.g. scheduling and dispatching applications). The latter is the lifeblood of Trapeze Software Group (Mississauga, Ontario), a provider of passenger transportation solutions.
Learn The Nuances Of The Passenger Transportation Market
Trapeze's passenger transportation market (excluding air transportation) is divided into public transit agencies, paratransit agencies (e.g. transport of physically challenged individuals), schools, commercial bus operators, and non-emergency medical companies (e.g. outpatient therapy patients).
In public transit, Trapeze's typical decision makers are the general managers or directors of transportation who oversee the scheduling and dispatching of fleets (e.g. trams, buses) with 5 to more than 1,000 vehicles. "There are federal initiatives in the United States to encourage municipalities to invest in and promote public transportation systems," explains Trapeze's President Rick Bacchus. "Because of these initiatives, public transit is experiencing a bit of a renaissance as government at all levels is renewing its commitment by increasing funding."
Trapeze's largest success in terms of market penetration has been in the paratransit market. Bacchus says in this market the dispatchers or the end users of the technology are usually not initiating the sale. Instead, the CFO or manager may be pursuing this technology to reduce costs and make the agency more efficient. Paratransit agencies are typically smaller, community-based organizations that operate a fleet of specialized vehicles to help the disabled or elderly move about town. These agencies usually provide demand-response services, meaning their clients call or go online to book a trip (i.e. to work, the mall, the doctor). Most of these organizations offer clients door-to-door service, though increasingly, Trapeze is encountering agencies that want to integrate their services with those available through traditional public transit. For example, a client may travel to a destination via a combination of public buses and agency vehicles. "The ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] legislation is fueling growth of paratransit operations with the goal of delivering mobility to all citizens," states Bacchus.
The smallest piece of Trapeze's business is the medical market. Here, customers are seeking better ways of scheduling transportation for discharged patients or outpatients. Certain healthcare clients also want to enhance the scheduling of medical vehicles that pick up lab specimens, medical supplies, or pharmaceuticals. Most healthcare providers want billing and invoicing capabilities built into a scheduling software - functions Trapeze has yet to add to its applications. Bacchus anticipates either adding these features or partnering with a developer that has that expertise.
In the school sector, superintendents, assistant superintendents, and transportation directors are the primary decision-makers. Trapeze's school clients range from massive districts with huge operations centers to rural districts with a few hundred students and small fleets of vehicles. These smaller districts often have a staff of schedulers and dispatchers who spend summers plotting bus routes on wall maps with string and thumbtacks. These employees then spend time driving the bus routes to see if it is possible to pick up the kids and still get to school on time. Using the Trapeze school software packages, these customers can plan their routes on a computer to be sure the routes will work properly for the drivers.
"The economic downturn of the last few quarters has reduced overall spending in the school sector, but we're now starting to see budget freezes lifted," Bacchus explains. "Thus, contacting a customer at the right time when funding is available [which varies for every school district] can really speed up the process."
Where's The Money Coming From?
Discovering when and what kind of funding is available for each transit agency is essential to Trapeze's success. For instance, most government funding has restrictions on what the money can be used for, how much can be spent, and when it has to be spent by. The customer may not understand all of these restrictions. Therefore, before Trapeze commits to a project, it needs to make sure its software applications are an approved expenditure from the funding source. In addition to funding restrictions, Bacchus says Trapeze needs to understand other customer challenges such as government reporting procedures and state-specific requirements for driver training.
Develop Partnerships To Develop Leads
Although Trapeze calls itself an end-to-end solution provider, Bacchus admits, "We don't think we are going to be everything to everybody all by ourselves. We still need specialized partners for the products we don't offer. For example, we partner with Mentor Engineering [Calgary, Alberta] for mobile data terminals [see sidebar on page 46]." Trapeze's software also works with vendors of third-party technologies such as automatic vehicle location systems and automated fare collection systems. The integration of Trapeze's software with its partner's hardware components allows the customer to use a shared database to eliminate rekeying of information.
Sometimes Trapeze is brought into a project by partners like Mentor, and sometimes Trapeze does the same for its partners. In addition to these vendor-related opportunities, Trapeze finds customers at industry-specific trade shows like those for the CTAA (Community Transportation Association of America), NAPT (National Association For Pupil Transportation) and APTA (American Public Transportation Association).
Integration With ERP And CRM Is A Must
Many large transit organizations are now installing their own ERP (enterprise resource planning) or CRM (customer relationship management) systems. These companies demand that transit software applications integrate with their ERP and CRM systems as well as any existing databases. Bacchus says many of his competitors are making a costly mistake by not planning for this integration.
"The truth is, there is a finite number of transport customers out there," Bacchus says. "That's why we are looking into working with public safety [e.g. fire, police] organizations - markets that are a natural extension of what we already do. If the economy continues to recover, we expect the market for our products will begin to grow."