Case study: Community Transport and innovation

Community Accessibility is using innovative technology to manage its fleet of community vehicles, providing better transport for vulnerable people so they can access the services they need.

Community Accessability aims

A not-for-profit organisation, Community Accessibility provides volunteer drivers to transport people to medical appointments and social outings in the Hume and Grampians regions, as well as across the border in NSW. The region supports an ageing population and a number of disadvantaged residents for whom transport and accessibility is an issue. Community Accessability aims to promote social wellbeing and independence for these community members, connecting them with regional centres, health services and public transport.

The Department of Transport assisted Community Accessibility to investigate potential software solutions to better manage its community transport requirements. The One Network online booking and fleet management system utilises software database TRIPS and complements existing community transport services.

TRIPS is a cloud-based platform designed specifically for community service providers to store their data securely, optimise service delivery and meet compliance and reporting requirements. It provides for the management of drivers, fleet, scheduling, verifications, real time tracking, and SMS notification, giving providers the ability to instantly respond to the needs of clients.

Community Accessibility worked with CSIRO to customise and trial the technology over six months, going live in May 2020. Rollout was affected by the COVID pandemic and restrictions, which required services to be adapted to follow government health advice on social distancing. As a result, Community Accessibility actively sought partnerships with local community organisations to help solve gaps in transport and better utilise their vehicles.

One of these partnerships is with Murrundindi Shire Council, which is utilising the technology in its Moving Murrundindi program to connect volunteer drivers with people in need of a low-cost transport option to get to health services, social activities and transport hubs.

“This initiative is providing better transport solutions for vulnerable and older people by ensuring they can access the services they need to help build healthier and more connected communities,” said Jaclyn Symes, MP for Northern Victoria.

Since the technology was implemented, more than 3,000 clients have taken over 20,000 individual trips across the region to access medical appointments, shopping, community programs and activities, public transport, school and work. Clients include frail, older people, recently arrived refugees, people with disabilities and people without access to a vehicle or licence.

Senior citizen Shirley started using the Community Accessibility service after her husband passed away. She was finding it too hard to drive and get around and did not want to rely solely on neighbours to help her.

“Community Accessability drive me to the supermarket every week to get groceries and I also use the service for doctor appointments. Community Accessability has given me my independence,” Shirley said.

Nola, a volunteer driver, enjoys meeting different people and hearing their stories as she takes them to medical appointments and grocery shopping.

“It’s a rewarding thing you’re doing. We get as much out of it as the clients do,” said Nola. “Many people cannot afford taxis and public transport is not good in regional areas. Also public transport is not a viable option for many of our clients who use wheelchairs or walkers. Community Accessability provides door-to-door service.”

The technology has resulted in more integrated and efficient transport services, enabling trips to be coordinated across fewer vehicles and the most effective routes easily mapped out. This optimisation of trips creates greater capacity to take on more clients each day, enabling Community Accessibility to address the growing demand for community transport in rural and regional towns. It has also reduced fuel emissions and the organisation’s environmental impact.

Detailed data reporting is available through the system, which Community Accessability can utilise and share with key stakeholders to ascertain needs in each region, allowing for better planning of services in local government areas.

The online booking functionality creates an easier, more seamless process, and real time tracking of the vehicle gives an accurate ETA, providing a more positive experience for transport users. Tracking has also improved safety for drivers and clients by enabling Community Accessability to know where the vehicles are at all times. The system can also notify carers and family of the arrival and departure of clients.

Staff efficiencies in scheduling have also increased with the introduction of the online booking system and in-vehicle tablets. The technology facilitates immediate changes to runs and sends reminder messages to drivers ahead of their scheduled runs, with a link to the day’s route on Google Maps – all without the need for manual staff input. Automatic SMS reminders advise clients of approaching transport, reducing cancellations and ensuring transport resources can be reallocated to other clients in need. These efficiencies have allowed Community Accessability to reallocate staff to support client intake.