Case Study: Person Area Transportation System (PATS)

By Aaron Rovner December 18, 2020

The Challenge

In May 2020, cyber-attackers targeted Person County government, located in Roxboro, NC, with ransomware. 

Government officials became aware of the incident on the night of Saturday, May 30, 2020, and the county’s IT department implemented mitigation and containment protocols, while working to rapidly enable recovery. The team also connected with federal and state agencies for help, including the FBI, the National Guard, and the N.C. Department of Information Technology, hoping to quickly thwart additional damage and maintain the incident. 

The incident reportedly began as a ransomware takeover of some of the county’s computer systems, and as a result, the county’s IT team shut down networks for both Person County government and the City of Roxboro. The agency’s back-up systems were an additional compromise point, effectively shutting down departments’ abilities to operate. 

The impact of the incident was quickly felt throughout operations, including disruptions to phone services, email, internet access, and some government services, such as online bill payments.

While phone systems were restored in early June 2020, some email issues existed well into August. By that month, officials reported they had remediated issues or rebuilt 30 servers, with about 20 more still needing attention. During that time, responders moved more than 500 users to a new email system with less than half of users able to access all of their emails. Officials anticipated several more weeks of work to get full staff email access restored.

By August 2020, the government shelled out almost $500,000 for response and recovery, with more than 8,000 total staff hours dedicated to the incident. They believe the incident originated through a compromised account that bypassed the county’s malware system.

Fortunately, the Person Area Transportation System (PATS) remained operational. Because its  scheduling service is cloud-based through TripMaster, powered by CTS Software, the agency continued operations without loss of services.

The Solution

PATS, which serves Roxboro, NC, and the greater Person County, NC, area, was founded in 1999. The agency provides transportation services to the general public and agencies, serving all of Person County. It has two deviated fixed routes covering the Roxboro community and demand-response transportation services throughout Person County, including out-of-county medical trips.

The agency’s fleet consists of 14 LTV buses, which operate from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. PATS serves about 50,000 passengers annually, with about 25,000 scheduled trips traversing more than 355,000 miles each year.

PATS employs seven full-time and 14 part-time drivers and has used TripMaster for more than a year.

“CTS Software has an excellent reputation for providing quality customer service,” said Kurt Neufang, PATS transportation director. “The software is easy to navigate and the generated reports meet our service needs.”

PATS team members attended an NCPTA Conference before deploying TripMaster and although they spoke with several vendors about similar products, they were most impressed with TripMaster and what CTS Software provides.

PATS implemented TripMaster in August 2019 for route scheduling for on-demand trips, and recently added ParaScope for fixed-route services. ParaScope enabled PATS to add tablets to two shuttle routes so they can instantly access performance data such as passenger numbers and stops for pick-up and drop-off.

When Person County government experienced the ransomware incident earlier this year, PATS remained operational because of TripMaster’s cloud-hosted capabilities.

“Though all the mainframe computers in the county experienced a loss of data and the ability to function, our scheduling service, which is cloud-based, made us available to not experience any service interruptions,” Neufang explained.

And while that’s an impressive benefit for PATS services, it’s among many experienced since adopting TripMaster as its non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) and paratransit scheduling solution. 

“The TripMaster program has enhanced our ability to make timely updates to our schedules and adjust times as needed,” Neufang said. “The features for passenger data and special accommodations are very useful. The reports that specifically generate billing information is invaluable for our service, as we have recently changed our billing structure.”

There are also additional benefits including more timely response for passenger needs and the ability to quickly communicate with and resolve concerns for drivers in near real time. 

“The TripMaster program has provided better time management to the drivers and the dispatcher/scheduler,” he said. “For example, the ability to group dialysis riders to get them to their respective appointments on time has been very helpful. These are life-sustaining trips and an important part of our transportation service.”

One of the team’s favorite TripMaster features is the ability to quickly and easily update trips as needed. Instead of relying on radio communication or phone calls for updates, on-site staff can make route, time, and other changes right in the platform, which is instantly delivered to drivers via a mobile device in their vehicles.

As a result, both customers and employees are more satisfied with PATS because of TripMaster.

And TripMaster’s customer support is unprecedented. 

“This is the area that we really appreciate,” Neufang said. “If the initial call for assistance is not successful, the CTS Software staff will provide additional support to render a solution.”

And as a result, Neufang says he would definitely recommend TripMaster to other NEMT and paratransit providers.

“The CTS Software team has provided excellent customer support and the training they provide has been exceptional,” he said. “We like that trainings are recorded and they can be viewed at later times. CTS has a team of very competent staff who relate well to our rural transportation needs.”