The Riverside Transit Agency experience with the methods of award and terms and conditions used to procure equipment and software for automatic vehicle location (AVL) and computer-aided dispatch (CAD).
In 1999, the U.S. Congress earmarked funds for selected projects that were assessed as supporting improvements in transportation efficiency, promoting safety, increasing traffic flow, reducing emissions, improving traveler information, enhancing alternative transportation modes, building on existing ITS, and promoting tourism. The USDOT selected a small number of these projects for national evaluation. The Riverside County, California Transit ITS Demonstration was among the selected projects.
The Riverside project proposed deploying several ITS applications to provide benefits in operations productivity, customer service, and traveler information for two transit agencies in Riverside County, California: Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) and SunLine Transit Agency. RTA and SunLine are medium and small sized providers, respectively, operating fixed route transit and demand response services. The major components of the project were automatic vehicle location (AVL) and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) technologies. The goals of the deployment were to provide the agencies with real-time fleet monitoring to promote on-route/on-time performance and to enhance customer information.
The national evaluation was originally intended to be a system impact study, but as the project experienced various deployment delays over time, it became apparent that there would be benefit in focusing the evaluation on lessons learned during the procurement phase. Therefore, the national evaluation was concluded in November 2005 prior to system deployment, and the lessons reported in the final report reflect the experiences of the stakeholders prior to actual deployment and operation of the system.
To the extent possible, procuring agencies should conduct due diligence when issuing an RFP to help mitigate cost, schedule, and performance risks. Actions that can be taken at the pre-bid phase include:
- Consider planning for a multi-phased deployment approach. RTA and SunLine included all project components in a single procurement. In retrospect, they felt that multiple smaller deployments might have been beneficial to help mitigate risk and to enable them to incorporate lessons learned during the earlier phases of the deployment.
- Consider hiring an independent consultant to help you manage the project, particularly if you have a small staff that may have limited experience with technology deployments. RTA and SunLine hired an independent consultant to act as a “system manager” – to aid them in developing the system requirements and RFP, to oversee the system acceptance testing, to review all documentation, and to oversee training. Based on this experience, the stakeholders felt that it is in fact helpful to have an independent consultant if the procuring agency does not have the technical expertise or resources in-house to manage the project. It is important to find an individual who is truly independent and who truly brings expert advice to the project team.
- Consider visiting peers who have undertaken similar efforts. RTA and SunLine did visit some peers from nearby agencies who had some experience with CAD/AVL systems. They found this to be very helpful, particularly in terms of obtaining sample contractual documents. In retrospect they felt that additional peer site visits and investigation would have been even more beneficial.
- Consider interacting with potential vendors at the pre-bid phase to help in developing the project scope. More and more agencies are discussing their project concept with vendors at the pre-bid phase. RTA and SunLine did not do this, but felt that it would have helped them to better define the project scope which may have resulted in more responsive bids.
- Carefully consider whether it is best to include detailed performance specifications. Some stakeholders involved in the Riverside project felt that the performance specifications should have been more detailed, while others felt that they should have been less detailed in this particular case. Both agreed that it really depends on the situation and that detailed performances specifications are not advantageous in all situations. In some cases, they are appropriate because they will help vendors respond properly to the RFP. In other cases, they are somewhat limiting because they can prevent vendors from proposing different options that may better serve your needs.
- Consider the operational impacts of technology in your deployment decisions. RTA and SunLine originally planned to include remote vehicle diagnostics as part of their project scope. However, as the procurement progressed and the project stakeholders performed a needs assessment, they determined that remote diagnostics were no longer a priority. Due to the anticipated quantity of data that the system would generate for maintenance staff to review, the agencies felt that staff would rather continue to rely on existing sources of information (i.e., direct observations or reports from drivers). They also felt that advances in in-vehicle protection systems had lessened the usefulness or necessity for remote diagnostics technologies.
The lesson presented here suggests that there are actions that a procuring agency can take at the pre-bid phase that can help mitigate cost, schedule, and performance risks. Examples of these actions include: hiring an independent consultant to help manage the project; conducting peer visits; interacting with potential vendors at the pre-bid phase; carefully considering whether it is best to detail performance specifications; and, considering the operational impacts of technology.