This field operational test evaluated the Houston Smart Commuter real-time traveler information system for interstate I-45 North and the Hardy toll road in Houston, Texas. In accordance with the Advanced Public Transit System (APTS) national evaluation effort, the field test was designed to collect information on the cost and functional characteristics of APTS, the impact of APTS on transit system performance, and the propensity of APTS to encourage high-occupancy commute modes. However, as a result of deployment delays and other technical problems, the study was limited to an analysis of customer satisfaction data collected from Smart Commuter participants and a control group. Other more quantitative data were not available.
Smart commuter participants received real-time traffic information from the Houston TranStar traveler information system via handheld portable computers and/or by using an automated interactive voice response (IVR) telephone system. Transit status, bus routes, schedules, fares, and directions to the local park-and-ride lots were also provided. The control group obtained traveler information from other sources.
The results of the evaluation were based on user surveys, diaries, and participant usage statistics before and after deployment of Smart Commuter. Two groups of Smart Commuter participants and one control group were used to evaluate the system between August 1997 and February 1999. Since the first group of participants experienced technical difficulties with the system, a second group was recruited in December 1997. The first group had and attrition rate of 72 percent, the second group had an attrition rate of 88 percent, and the control group had attrition rate of 87 percent. At the conclusion of the evaluation period, 99 post-test surveys were collected from Smart Commuter participants, and 65 post-test surveys were collected from the control group.
The following results were presented in the report, however, the author noted that limited participation diminished the level of confidence needed to draw firm conclusions.
- Participants preferred Traffic information over mode-choice information.
- Based on five performance categories (ease of use, information accuracy, information timeliness, information usefulness, and information reliability) participants rated the handheld portable computer system as good or very good using the following scale: (very good > good > unsure > poor > very poor).
- Participants preferred radio, internet, and television over handheld portable computers or telephones as an information medium.
- The usage of the handheld portable computer system declined significantly over time.
- Participants noted that changes in commute travel times were insignificant.
- 40 percent of participants indicating a willingness to pay for travel information.