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updated: 4/12/2011 5:25 PM

Pace to alert paratransit riders when van's coming

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Disabled riders using Pace's pickup van service won't have to wonder if their driver will be on time with the introduction of a new alert system.

Instead, paratransit users will receive automated phone calls 10 to 15 minutes before their ride is scheduled to arrive informing them of its status.

"We're taking steps to use technology to make the system better," said Melinda Metzger, Pace deputy executive director of revenue services.

The bus company handles paratransit, the pickup service for people with disabilities, in Chicago and the suburbs.

Pace is trying out the alert system on a group of volunteers and once the kinks are worked out, it will be instituted for all paratransit users over a period of eight months to a year.

Once it is implemented, automated calls also will remind riders the day before a scheduled trip.

Pace paid for the alert program when it purchased its paratransit dispatching system in 2006 from Trapeze Systems, Inc.

The goal is to reduce costs involved when a rider forgets about a scheduled trip as well as provide an extra service, Pace officials said.

"Customers have a clearer idea of when a vehicle is going to arrive and we spend less time waiting for passengers," Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said.

If successful, the next step is to offer trip booking, confirmations and cancellations on the Internet, as well as text message alerts.

So far, "the people we've been testing it out on are happy with it," Metzger said.