California's experience with a regional travel information system launched by a public-private alliance.
TravInfo is a regional traveler information system in the San Francisco Bay Area. The institutional evaluation examined TravInfo's unique concept of open-architecture and its collaborative public-private partnership to broadly disseminate traveler information and foster a commercial market for privately offered advanced traveler information services. Despite many challenges, the field test was completed, and at its conclusion TravInfo was deployed as an integral part of the Bay Area transportation infrastructure. The institutional evaluation measured the performance of TravInfo's public-private partnership at the organizational level. TravInfo meetings were conducted as open forums to encourage the entrepreneurial participation of members of the advanced traveler information system industry as well as the active participation of local public agencies. Among lessons learned is the importance of adjusting different expectations of the public and private partners, establishing reasonable goals for the field test, developing different scenarios to deal with arising problems, and understanding the value of the public-private partnership.
The TravInfo project established project and evaluation goals that were ambitious and unrealistic to achieve within the time allotted. Any new technology product requires sufficient time to be developed, tested and marketed. In the case of advanced traveler information systems, product marketing may take much longer than the product development and testing. Because both the project and evaluation goals were set too high, expectations remained unmet by the conclusion of the field test.
- Set reasonable, achievable goals when developing, testing, and deploying a new technology product. The TravInfo project established unrealistic goals not only to develop and test a baseline system, but also to deploy the system fully to have a significant impact on individual travel behavior and, ultimately, on the Bay Area transportation system. The evaluation objectives were as ambitious as the project goals. The evaluators initially believed that the effectiveness of the TravInfo project could be measured based on the extent to which the TravInfo goals were achieved during the field test itself. In retrospect, these expectations were unrealistic. The purpose of the federal field test was to test one type of application in terms of its design, software capability, data sources, integration and dissemination, primarily to learn what worked and what did not. Because additional, unrealistic goals were established, expectations were virtually unattainable.
- Anticipate challenges and modify expectations to reflect new developments. The TravInfo system was out of date the moment it was completed because the technology was changing at such a rapid rate. Compounding the problem, the TravInfo software was based on a system used in the military — the most economical and practical option at the start of the system's design — which was not easily modified. As a result, developing the TravInfo software took more time and effort than anticipated, and it turned out to be less effective than expected.
- Conduct private sector research on consumer response to products and services. The uncertainty of the commercial market for advanced traveler information systems generally requires extensive market research on consumer behavior for product development and product testing. Without a full understanding of the market size of those who are willing to pay for information and the types of services that would attract consumers, it is difficult to estimate the consumer market for commercialized advanced traveler information systems. In some cases, information service providers lost their initial enthusiasm for developing privately offered traveler information services because of this lack of consumer knowledge.
At the outset of a project, realistic goals should be set to ensure that expectations are met by the completion of the project. Sufficient time should be allotted for the development, evaluation, and marketing of a product. With any new technology product, unforeseen challenges may arise. In anticipation of these challenges, expectations should be regularly reviewed and revised to reflect new developments. Wherever possible, consumer knowledge should be acquired through market research to help predict how a new technology product will be received. Setting achievable goals, consistently revising expectations, and conducting research on consumer response will allow an agency to become more dynamic and thus more productive in introducing a new technology product.