VanGo, the county's only public transportation system, continues to run more efficiently following a software upgrade made last year.

Nola Davis, director of the Bettye J. McCormick Senior Center, told the Knox County Commissioners Tuesday that after one full quarter — the fourth quarter in 2018 — of using the new automated software, the program continues to spawn improvements.

Davis said VanGo saw a 10-percent increase in passenger boardings in the fourth quarter of last year as well as a 13-percent decrease in total miles traveled.

And that's a good thing, she said.

VanGo drivers are being told when and where to pick up local residents who call to reserve rides. The program alerts the closest bus, and the new automated system — which drivers access via a tablet — directs drivers as to the most efficient order of passenger pickup.

As a result, the buses are actually driving fewer miles but collecting the same amount of revenue, if not more.

Actual bus hours went down by about 24 percent, Davis told the commissioners, which resulted in fuel costs falling by 10 percent.

“We still have some bumps in the road to figure out, but most of the time those are related to driver error,” Davis said. “Maybe they forget to hit a button or there's (delays) due to a driver getting sick, something like that.

“They're all things we can work on.”

Davis also said the program is resulting in more fares paid.

Before implementing the software program, drivers were responsible for collecting rider fares. Sometimes, riders would ask to pay their fares later, say after their shopping trip to Walmart when they had change.

But if the return trip ended up being with a different driver, the fare might not be collected at all.

This software program, Davis said, mandates that drivers collect the fare before riders are able to even board.

“So they have to pay,” she said, “and that's something they've had to get used to.”

VanGo officials anticipated a bit of a pushback from loyal users. The changes, Davis said, were “scary” to some.

But for the most part, she said, riders have come back around.

“(The software creator) said, right at first, we would see a dip, and we did,” Davis said. “But I think we have most of that stuff worked out, and everybody is riding again.

“In the end, we've just been very pleased with our numbers.”

The commissioners liked Davis' good news and looked forward to continued updates.

“I'll be really interested to see when you get a whole year in on the new system,” said commissioner Trent Hinkle. “What will that look like?”

VanGo paid for the program, in part, with a state grant. The Knox County Development Corp. then offered a $25,000 match.

VanGo receives a state grant as well as contributions from both the city and the county for operational costs.

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