Be aware of operational issues regarding the development of coordinated transit systems

Experience from the Lake Tahoe Coordinated Transit System.

Date Posted

Evaluation of the South Lake Tahoe Coordinated Transit System (CTS) Project Phase III Evaluation Report

Summary Information

In 2000, 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 intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and promoting tourism. Among the selected projects was the Tahoe Coordinated Transit System (CTS).

The CTS was viewed as a means of reducing congestion, protecting the environment and earning mitigation credits for redevelopment in the Lake Tahoe region. Through combining transit services offered by private and public sector stakeholders into one centrally dispatched operation that uses intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies, the CTS would also improve transit efficiency and create a more visitor friendly transit system. The CTS project spans the jurisdiction of two counties in two states, as well as one city, and incorporates the private transit resources of five casinos and one ski resort, with the aim of serving the market objectives of both the public and private sectors. The key features of the new system included:

  • Automatic vehicle location (AVL)
  • Mobile data terminals (MDT)
  • Computer-aided dispatch (CAD)
  • Automatic passenger counters (APC)
  • Trip reservation/information kiosks
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for trip booking by telephone
  • Traffic surveillance cameras

A U.S. DOT evaluation report has summarized findings from a system impact study that focuses primarily on assessing the impacts on ridership, customer satisfaction and operating efficiency. Findings from an institutional issues review and a set of lessons learned on deploying and operating the various ITS transit technologies are also presented.

The CTS Board maintained a close relationship with Area Transit Management (ATM), the operator of transit services for CTS. Overall, this relationship was critical to the success of the project. In the stakeholder interviews, a number of different issues pertaining to system operations were discussed.

  • Be cognizant of the importance of operator capabilities. ATM was highly capable in the use of the new technology and was flexible in adapting to changes and problems in the system. For example, when there were problems with the phone system or the kiosks, ATM handled the issue very efficiently. The project benefitted from having an operator who could facilitate changes as smoothly as possible. In addition, ATM demonstrated that it was a community-oriented organization, who kept the interests of transit riders in mind when making decisions. Also, due to the separate operating contracts for the different services, CTS required a trustworthy operator with accurate reporting under the various contracts.
  • Plan for the communications infrastructure cost. Agencies planning a similar coordinated transit system should consider the costs of the communications infrastructure. The kiosks, for example, require a high speed network for data transfer to the dispatch center. In the case of CTS, the installation of a wireless local area network has eliminated the bulk of the recurring cost of communication through a service provider. However, the system does incur a monthly charge ($700) for a T1 data transfer across the California-Nevada line because of state jurisdictional issues with local telecommunications providers.
  • Develop an equitable routing algorithm. One of the most difficult issues in the project was determining how to equitably drop off passengers at the participating casinos. Some of the private sector participants were concerned that passengers would be dropped off at the first casino and spend most of their time there. In response to this issue, the project team developed a "first drop algorithm", whereby the CTS would automatically vary the order of stops and keep track of how many passengers have been dropped off at each to maintain an equitable distribution of customers. This system worked successfully, though it eventually evolved into a "majority rules" system, wherein the driver’s first drop should be where the majority of passengers would like to go.
  • Facilitate Billing for different CTS Services. Institutional issues between the contractor and the CTS stakeholders necessitated separate operating contracts for each of the CTS services (rather than a single contract, as originally planned). In order to facilitate billing, ATM staff devised a software program to track service hours and ridership for each service. The program ensures proper billing for each service by providing separate profit/loss and ridership reports. The program was not difficult to develop; rather, the most significant challenge was the communication necessary to understand the needs of each stakeholder and tailor the software to meet those needs

The development of the coordinated transit system involved a number of operational issues such as designing a routing schedule that was equitable to each of the private stakeholder involved and devising a billing system that met each stakeholder’s needs. The ability of ATM, the operator of transit services for CTS, to smoothly adapt to and facilitate the necessary changes was critical to the successful operation of the coordinated transit system.