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Kansas City: Building Partnerships to Expand Mobility Services

The Kansas City Area (MO) Transportation Authority (KCATA) started to adopt the mobility management concept in the early 2010s, identifying all mobility services (private and public) available in the Kansas City metropolitan area to facilitate access for the community.

In 2015, the agency reimagined its whole approach to providing service, coordinating regional efforts to build a comprehensive, seamless public transit system connecting the entire area. Now, KCATA is leading several initiatives to complement transit services and offer more mobility options for the community, such as a vanpool program for commuters and the RideKC Freedom program—an Uber-style app that provides on-demand services for both paratransit and non-paratransit customers.

Getting Started
Mobility efforts in Kansas City have been driven by two types of leaders: those who “prepared the runway for takeoff” and those who “are running down the runway” that has been cleared.

KCATA brought together a variety of services through adoption of a single “RideKC” brand to unite all public transit systems in the region, operating with a single pass.

The clearing of the runway has happened at a high level. The mayor is a strong advocate of all modes of public transportation and has supported KCATA’s innovations. The Kansas City Chamber has also engaged in these efforts by establishing transportation as one of the chamber’s top five initiatives for 2018, and KCATA’s chief executive officer and board have created a cultural path and buy-in to try new things, supporting successes and failures. The innovation team has played a key role in running down the runway, leading and coordinating the initiatives, and persisting when necessary to advance their projects. The marketing, IT and planning teams have also engaged in the new mobility initiatives, as has the business sector in programs related to job access.

The first step to advancing mobility was the adoption of a single RideKC brand to unite all the public transit systems in the Kansas City region, allowing people to buy a single pass and use it on different buses. The idea came from listening to customers who could not get from point A to point B (unless they used a car) because those points were served by different systems. To further facilitate access, a regional eligibility process was created and the various call centers were turned into one access point so people could apply for services, book paratransit trips or obtain fixed-route information for any system in the same place.

In 2016, leveraging emerging mobility services, KCATA built a partnership with Bridj and Ford to test an on-demand service. Using a mobile app, riders could request on-demand shuttle services that they accessed via dynamic rally points. The project had low ridership and was not continued but provided valuable insights for subsequent initiatives.

Moving ­Forward
Historically, KCATA’s approach to innovation has been in-house, reviewing services internally and focusing market research on current bus riders. Now, the agency has opened that process to actors whose input has not formerly been typically incorporated.

The agency established a cross-functional innovative work group comprising operations, planning, marketing and IT representatives, users and even contractors, and created an unsolicited proposal policy to hear ideas and innovation from outside. The group prioritizes ideas based on the expected benefits for customers and the operational costs.

The RideKC Freedom program uses an app to provide on-demand services for both paratransit and non-paratransit customers.

As KCATA’s role advances from a public transit provider to a mobility manager, it has begun developing a more customer-centric approach and more coordinated efforts. The agency is putting together consumer panels to build qualitative and psychographic profiles of current and potential riders to better tailor its services and marketing efforts. It also has restructured the organization to facilitate internal communication and coordination, with innovation moving higher up in the organization to span different processes from planning to marketing.

With key partners such as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Kansas City Chamber and private companies like mobility operator Transdev, the agency is identifying how its interests fit into the broader vision to work together toward a shared outcome.

KCATA is also seeking collaborations that multiply the value of rides, supporting areas such as health, education or homelessness. RideKC Connections, registered as a 501(c)(3), acts as the nonprofit wing of the agency, allowing social net organizations to roll it into their grants, in which transportation is usually a major component. In this way, KCATA can move people back and forth to jobs, homeless shelters or hospitals at no cost to them.

The agency has developed a partnership with veteran groups to provide free bus rides for all Kansas City’s veterans and is now working with the health sector to bring down the overall cost of care for an individual.

To evaluate its main projects, such as the Bridj pilot in 2016 and the RideKC Freedom On-Demand program, KCATA commissioned an external party to provide impartial and objective results. The agency also asked the RideKC Advisory Committee, consisting of academics, the business community, riders and students, to define what success means for the multiple stakeholders, to complement the metrics.

Communication, ­Outreach and ­Marketing
From the Bridj project, the agency learned the relevance of incorporating users’ input into the design process and raising awareness of the program and how to use it. For the RideKC Freedom On-Demand project, KCATA designed a thoughtful marketing strategy, including targeted mailing, a page on the agency’s website, special messaging on the call center line and leveraging word of mouth to spread information throughout the community.

Communication is also central to building and keeping relationships with higher-level public representatives. Monthly communications from the agency’s CEO to elected officials, FTA and the business community present system activity, program and service changes and address issues affecting constituents. Additionally, KCATA works with lobbyists in Washington, DC; Jefferson City, MO; and Topeka, KS, to keep officials aware of the agency’s projects.

Project Implementation
To move from ideas to implementation, KCATA has relied on communication, collaboration and pilots to ensure that feedback is incorporated and to generate buy-in for projects.

As an example, the RideKC Freedom On-Demand pilot originated when senior KCATA executives inquired into improving paratransit service. A team was established, including the contractor, to work on an on-demand program. The team developed the Freedom app and tested it with 20 users, who provided input and acted as ambassadors for the program. By the time the project was launched, it was already known by the paratransit community. The service reached the expected ridership in the first month and saw that figure quadruple in the following eight months.

With the app, KCATA also adopted new software to manage ride information that is now being used by all its services, which means all data goes into one database and can be more easily used for planning purposes.

In the pipeline, KCATA is working with bikeshare companies, TNCs and other private providers to expand the agency’s footprint. This is a fundamental and cultural change. The agency used to directly operate everything except for paratransit. Now, KCATA understands that it is not competing with other providers, but looking for partnerships to provide mobility options, and to collaborate with other actors in the health, education or employment sectors to multiply the value of those services.


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