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.
In the project-planning phase, the TravInfo project relied on the best-case scenario for both system design and implementation. It did not consider worst-case scenarios to develop possible alternative courses of action. Two major contracting problems were not foreseen and caused significant delays. However, the project team was wise to respond to the situation by retaining an expert who could advise them on all facets of technical and management issues.
- Retain a technical advisor when possible. Most public agencies do not have the necessary complement of in-house experts, and TravInfo's public partners were no exception. Unlike other federally funded Field Operational Tests in California, the Board retained a technical advisor to the project team to oversee all phases of the TravInfo project. The Board and the project team felt strongly that they greatly benefited from this decision, especially because the advisor brought his necessary expertise to assist the project team from the agency point of view. Without that sort of help, agencies will not necessarily know what questions should be raised, or what technical issues should be addressed.
- Create a flexible system to deal with rapidly changing technologies. Although the technology at the time TravInfo was developed might not have had many alternatives, an easily upgradeable and flexible system would have helped cope with rapidly advancing ITS technologies. While the original concept for TravInfo was open and flexible, TravInfo's final design was not. TravInfo will likely require enhancements to keep up with advances in technology, if not a complete replacement of its system.
- Adopt a flexible approach to project implementation. While productive at some levels, the project approach during the FOT was not flexible enough to quickly respond to various kinds of obstacles that arose during the project. The project team isolated individual problems within the system and tried either to fix them or to add new components to the system. A clearly defined contingency plan and flexible arrangement between public agencies might have circumvented the Traffic Operations System related issues. Although TravInfo's organization was effective, the consensus-based partnership caused TravInfo to be slow at making critical decisions. While productive at some levels, the project approach during the field test was not flexible enough to quickly respond to obstacles that arose unexpectedly, such as the delays in the development of Caltrans due to the state executive order and the consultant's delivery of a system not fully compliant with design specifications.
- Develop alternative courses of action to address planning and implementation issues. Significant delays occurred with the development of two major unforeseen contracting problems. The state executive order temporarily prohibited sole source government contracts, delaying full development of the Traffic Operations System. The challenge was then to push the project forward so the Management Board could meet its contractual obligation to the Federal Highway Administration. The system design consultants' unexpected delays in their deliverables and their decision to scale back their involvement with the TravInfo project before completing their contract was the other major setback that could not have been anticipated. These events also discouraged the information service providers' product development and testing. Since worst-case scenarios were not developed and possible alternative courses of action were not identified in the planning process, the project experienced significant delays.
During the planning phase of TravInfo, the best-case scenario was used. It was expected that the Caltrans Traffic Operations System would progress on schedule, and that system contractors would adhere to contract schedules and deliverables. Early consideration of potential risks associated with contractors would be beneficial. The TravInfo organization wisely relied on outside assistance in developing the system and in resolving technical issues. Furthermore, unforeseen events can affect contractors' performance or their ability to meet their schedules. Flexibility built into the contract would have helped the project team cope with contractual problems for dealing with schedule delays and the quality of deliverables. Risk assessment strategies and contingency planning are vital in moderating the potentially negative consequences of unforeseen events, ensuring that operations move smoothly and efficiently.