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Local

A joy (to) ride

HIRTA launches new app, online payments in Jasper County

Richard Cole, lead driver trainer for the Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) in Jasper County, demonstrates how to use his vehicle’s tablet, which now monitors online payments for rides.
Richard Cole, lead driver trainer for the Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) in Jasper County, demonstrates how to use his vehicle’s tablet, which now monitors online payments for rides.

As a convenience to the many riders utilizing public transit services in the area, the Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency has implemented an easy-to-use app for Jasper County customers and now offers online payment options through credit and debit cards.

Roughly a month has passed since area HIRTA drivers and riders were first introduced to Amble, or what the application’s software vendor, Routematch, describes on its website as a “paratransit rider app.” Designed to allow users the ability to “request, view and cancel trips at their convenience,” Amble is, above all else, accessible to the HIRTA riders requiring door-to-door transit services in Jasper County.

HIRTA Business Development Manager Brooke Ramsey said once a user logs on to Amble, he or she can then request a ride on-the-spot or well in advance, and then see when an upcoming ride will take place or view a user history of past transits.

“It gives them 24/7 access,” she said. “You can actually go in and check what your pickup time is going to be and how long you’ll be riding the bus. You can see all that information in the trip itinerary.”

Before Amble had been announced and applied to HIRTA’s rural public transit system in Jasper County, Ramsey said staff had not been able to accept debit or credit card transactions for rides. Customers had to resort to cash tolls and prepaid tickets before the most recent addition of online payments was introduced as a more convenient option for modern public transit users.

“It’s also more secure because our drivers aren’t having as much cash or checks on the bus, and we don’t have to worry about people who don’t have change or correct payment,” Ramsey said. “Another great feature is for those who maybe have budgets they have to keep track of; they can set up those online payments to align with their payrolls.”

Technology for the app can also be utilized through a web browser on home desktop computers in case would-be riders do not own a smartphone or tablet with internet access. Ramsey said the app is not necessarily employing brand new tech, but “it’s a feature that is not as common in rural transportation,” particularly because of the cost.

To bring this $180,000 project to Jasper County, Ramsey said HIRTA received quite a bit of grant funding through local organizations such as the Jasper Community Foundation.

Drivers were trained how to manage the new system and were made aware of any additional steps they would need to take when transporting individuals throughout Jasper County. Ramsey said HIRTA was strategic in its deployment of the app and online payment process so as not to overwhelm staff with the change in routine.

About 700 to 1,100 rides are scheduled each day among five of HIRTA’s seven total counties — Jasper, Boone, Marion, Story and Warren. As of Nov. 5, Ramsey said about 130 people have downloaded and are using Amble, and between 20 to 28 rides a day are requested through the app.

Some riders, Ramsey said, have set schedules and do not have to constantly request public transit assistance from HIRTA, which regularly provides rides to the general public, including individuals with disabilities. For instance, if a dialysis rider needs to be picked up three days a week, he or she may set up a permanent schedule through Amble. However, that particular rider still has the ability to modify or cancel transit times.

“So even though they’re not necessarily scheduling a ride every single day, they still have access to the information they can review or be reminded of,” Ramsey said.

Since the implementation of Amble, HIRTA has noticed a significant reduction in phone calls. Ramsey said staff have reported a decrease of 100 phone calls per week or 400 calls a month since the app was put into effect in Jasper County. Happy with those numbers, Ramsey credits the app for answering customer questions or concerns regarding their next ride and therefore causing the decrease in calls.

“Sometimes people call in just to double check how much it’s going to cost or what time the bus is going to be there or they can’t remember if they scheduled a ride to the doctor,” Ramsey said. “The app is actually giving them all of that (information).”

Giving that kind of technological convenience to a public transit customer, she added, is important to HIRTA, especially to people living in rural communities. Ramsey said those individuals want more independence and are looking at technology to both reduce time and communication to an entity that provides on-demand support.

“Having the ability to look at that information any time they want and not rely on calling and asking someone else a question is something that is becoming more common for our communities,” Ramsey said.

With its integration of the Amble app, HIRTA is adapting to that demand.

In September, HIRTA Executive Director Julia Castillo testified before the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee about innovations in surface transportation, such as autonomous vehicles. Castillo used HIRTA’s installation of Amble as an example of an important innovation and technology that makes sense for rural transportation.

“We all know the community and public transportation industry is changing,” Castillo told the subcommittee. “The vehicles and technology we use may evolve, however, people will always need to get somewhere.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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