A day in the life of an ITN dispatcher
The day starts early. It’s 6 a.m., mid-winter. Snow is falling persistently. It’s still dark but the small LCD display on my ITN® cell phone sends a faint glow onto my bedroom ceiling. From the number on the display I know it’s a driver calling. I think to myself, this can’t be good.
“It’s Jeanie. My car won’t start. There’s no way I can make that 7 a.m. pick-up,” the voice on the other end of the line says.
So starts an average day in the life of a dispatcher for ITNPortland™.
It’s the dispatcher’s job to make sure the day’s rides run smoothly. While we spend hours the day before preparing the next day’s schedule, rarely does a day go exactly according to plan.
It’s now 7:30 a.m. and I’m in my car driving to ITN’s office at the Dana Warp Mill on Bridge Street. in Westbrook. Another call comes in on my cell phone, this time from Mrs. Smith. She forgot to schedule a pick-up for 11 a.m. I tell her I’ll call her back when I get to the office and can check the schedule. After arriving at work, I go through each driver’s schedule for that day and eventually find an opening. I quickly call Mrs. Smith back and tell her we will pick her up at 11 a.m. Victory! The first bump of the day is resolved.
The day progresses as usual. Members needing rides for the next day call and schedule their upcoming rides. The other dispatcher Eric Bartlett, veteran dispatcher Mary Lou Zahn, or myself will answer each call, “ITN, this is (our name), how can I help you?” Most folks are very friendly, appreciative that an organization such as ITN is around to provide such a needed service.
After lunch at my desk, the next day’s schedule beckons. Knowing that most people have already called in to request their rides for the next day, I use ITN’s computer system to begin the process of scheduling the next day’s rides. To efficiently schedule, a dispatcher needs to know where destinations are and how long it takes to get there.
Scheduling is one thing. Having the day’s list of 50 to 70 rides proceed according to schedule is quite another. Despite such snags as heavy traffic, train crossings, and weather delays (especially in the winter), it’s remarkable the day’s schedule progresses as smoothly as it usually does.
But other times, the schedule can get off track. One thing that can ruin our schedule, is delays at doctor’s appointments. When someone calls to request a ride for a doctor’s appointment, the dispatcher’s job is to work with the rider to figure out how long an appointment will last. Obviously, some appointments last longer than others. Someone needing surgery will often need hours compared to someone visiting for a routine checkup. Many times, our estimate will be accurate. Other times, an ITN driver will arrive only to find the rider is still in with a doctor. As these snags occur throughout the day, we do our best to shift the schedule accordingly.
By 4 p.m., the next day’s schedule is usually complete. Inevitably, someone will call after 4 p.m. to schedule a ride for the next day. After working those into the schedule, we’ll print out each driver’s manifest. A manifest is a sheet of paper detailing specific pick-up and drop-off times and locations, the rider’s name, the doctor’s name, and any other pertinent information.
At ITNPortland, we have paid drivers, who use company cars, and volunteer drivers, who use their own cars. Since volunteers rarely come to ITN’s office in Westbrook, most request we e-mail their driver manifest information the night before. Depending on the number of volunteers available for the next day and how slow our typing fingers are moving, this process can take upwards of an hour to complete. We then call to confirm that everyone received their schedule and if they have any questions about the next day’s rides.
At 6 p.m., one of us will forward the office phone to the ITN cell phone and head out the door. As in the morning, inevitably someone will call at night to request a ride for the next day. The cell phone will ring, a shaft of LCD light will brighten my bedroom and I’ll awake to either a rider needing a ride or a driver not available for the day. But so goes the dispatching business. Our job is managing the snags. And when people need us, they can call and be sure an ITN dispatcher will answer.