A. Innovative Payment Operations for Adult Children
A catalogue that combined gifts and transportation certificates was tested with seniors and their adult children. The response rate from the target market, adult children of seniors, was approximately 10 percent. By comparison, the typical response rate of companies in the catalogue industry is only two percent. Most of the gift certificates purchased, however, were for transportation only, not transportation combined with a gift. This meant that the only opportunity to raise revenue was from fees charged for the certificates, a practice that was unpopular with consumers. The willingness of adult children and families to participate in the ITN senior transit service was then tested as a membership campaign, expanding the membership concept from the senior customers to families and the population as a whole. The membership program produced revenue immediately, with membership dues from adult children and siblings ranging from $35 to $1,000. Gift certificates have been retained in the transit program as conveniences for customer service. Adult children liked them as a feature of the service and showed their appreciation for the ITN through contributions and membership dues. Likewise, credit cards as a payment method did not increase adult child participation in the program, but they did provide a good customer service.
B. Innovative Merchant Program
Merchant participation was tested with the Ride & Shop program. A control group and an experimental group tested the program for six months, collecting stickers from thirteen area merchants. The results indicated the Ride & Shop program was effective in increasing rides to participating stores. Each sticker collected was worth $1.50, with $1 going to the riding seniors, as an incentive to patronize that store, and $.50 going to the ITN to help cover the deficit incurred with every ride. The administrative cost of the Ride & Shop program exceeded the economic benefit until the program became "stickerless" as an electronic transfer of funds from the merchant’s account to the accounts for the seniors and the ITN. Like the membership campaign described above, the electronic Ride & Shop program was implemented at the ITN in Portland, Maine, after the actual research project was completed.
C. Information System Technology
A GIS program was designed to create shared rides among community-dwelling seniors by using windows of availability and by dispatching volunteer drivers. Available commercial GIS software applications for transit were found to be inappropriate and unaffordable for small community volunteer transit services that need to capture the detail necessary to properly dispatch volunteer drivers and their vehicles. Focus groups and a survey of seniors using the ITN service indicated that 80 percent of seniors were willing to share rides in automobiles with other seniors in the service. The GIS software program could not be built with the resources available in the Transit IDEA Project. However, a GIS software application that uses Transit IDEA research results was built with other resources. The program dispatches to both paid and volunteer drivers, creates shared rides as a consumer choice, incorporates revenue and data collection for the innovative payment operations (Ride & Shop, Healthy Miles, and Ride Services), and maintains a database for membership.
By demonstrating two innovative payment options through adult children of seniors and businesses in the community and by using a GIS to create shared rides and efficiently dispatch volunteers, this project provides information on innovative payment methods for transportation services for elderly people.
More than $1 million in follow-on funding was obtained and used for post-IDEA research and development. Some of the methods developed in this project and Transit IDEA Project 9 were subsequently used in a number of communities, including Santa Monica, California; Orlando, Florida; and Mercer County, New Jersey.