Recognize issues in deploying ITS technologies for coordinating and improving Human Services Transportation.

Experiences from six agencies.

Date Posted

ITS Applications for Coordinating and Improving Human Services Transportation

Summary Information

The transportation disadvantaged, including older adults, persons with disabilities and individuals with lower incomes, often have limited or no access to transportation. These populations need flexible yet dependable routes and schedules, easily understood traveler information, simple-to-use fare payment options, and transportation that is safe and secure. ITS technologies, such as automatic vehicle location, computer aided dispatch, mobile data terminals, mobile data computers and coordination and integration software, can improve the operations and coordination of agencies, resulting in greater efficiencies and service delivery improvements that benefit the transportation disadvantaged. In addition, advanced traveler information systems, electronic fare payment and surveillance and security systems, are passenger-related ITS technologies that can improve the mobility of the transportation disadvantaged.

A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report, ITS Applications for Coordinating and Improving Human Services Transportation, has profiled six diverse sites that have successfully deployed ITS technologies to improve transportation options for the transportation disadvantaged. The case studies examined include: Wheels of Wellness (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Flint Mass Transportation Authority (MTA), Cape Code Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA), Tri-Met (Portland, Oregon), Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) and Client Referral, Ridership and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT, New Mexico). While these agencies have used different approaches, based on their needs and in-house capabilities, all have emphasized the importance of coordination and flexibility in providing service.

The FHWA report provides an overview of ITS technologies that improve human services transportation, describes examples of useful practices and cross-cutting findings for the six sites, and presents a set of lessons learned.

Lessons Learned

Through providing more efficient coordination and delivery of human services transportation, ITS technologies can be used to improve accessibility for the transportation disadvantaged. The diverse agencies profiled in this report provide examples of the successful deployment of ITS in coordinating human services transportation. A brief description of each of the six sites is provided below.

  • Wheels of Wellness is a non-profit medical transportation brokerage that provides non-emergency medical transportation using primarily contract carriers. Wheels manages the call center for scheduling trips, as well as the routing and scheduling for the contract carriers.
  • Cape Code Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) provides Cape-wide transportation to the public, including door-to-door service and traditional fixed route regional bus service. CCRTA was one of the first transit systems to deploy computer assisted scheduling and dispatching systems and has upgraded its hardware and software with additional ITS components, such as MDCs, AVL (GPS-based) and a GIS.
  • Flint Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) provides public transportation and operates a paratransit service in the city of Flint, Michigan and throughout the entire Genesee County. In 1995 Flint MTA restructured its operation from a single large service center to 11 separate service centers throughout the county. Flint MTA utilizes a single routing and scheduling software to facilitate coordination among the 11 service centers.
  • Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) coordinates all of the transportation needs for Ventura County, California and is both a brokerage and a transit agency. As a transit agency, VCTC operates an intercity fixed route bus service and a dial-a-ride service, in addition to coordinating services with five municipal transit providers. As a brokerage, VCTC coordinates with both public and private local area transportation services of all modes.
  • Tri-Met is a municipal corporation providing public transportation for much of the three counties in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. Tri-Met operates a comprehensive transit network, including light rail, fixed route bus lines and paratransit, and contracts with other organizations to supplement regular services. Tri-Met has utilized ITS technologies to improve coordination among the various modes and functions.
  • Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) is an internet based transit management software program utilized by the New Mexico Department of Transportation Public Transportation Programs Bureau and rural transit providers in the state to facilitate coordination between transportation providers and human services agencies. CRRAFT was developed to help agencies satisfy the requirements of multiple funding agencies and programs.

Based on the agencies' experience in deploying ITS, the following set of lessons learned is presented.

  • Incrementally phase-in ITS technologies. Based on the experience of the six study sites, ITS technologies used to improve human services transportation should be phased in incrementally. In this way, any problems with the technology can be fixed before adding a new layer of complexity.
    • Wheels of Wellness needed about three years to fully integrate the routing and scheduling software with the mobile data computers (MDCs) and vehicle tracking equipment
    • CCRTA noted that key infrastructure elements (e.g. a communications network) need to be in place prior to the deployment of the technology.
    • Flint MTA deployed its system incrementally, installing the system separately at each of its 11 service centers
  • Provide training to staff, operators, drivers and users. Training is critical to ensure complete and accurate use of the system. Moreover, training served to allay concerns about the system. Among several agencies, drivers were apprehensive about being monitored with the tracking equipment, but over time, the drivers learned to appreciate the system.
    • CCRTA learned that through training all users on how to use the system and why correct use is essential, they were able to improve data integrity and completeness.
    • Flint MTA recommended the use of vendor supplied training and on-site support when implementing vendor supplied training.
    • Wheels of Wellness trained the drivers for each contract carrier together and then integrated that carrier into the system immediately while the training was still fresh.
    • VCTC found that training served as an opportunity to discover defects in the system.
  • Hold regular meetings among system providers, subcontractors, policy makers, special interest groups, and agency managers. Regular meetings among stakeholders allow them to share problems and ideas and to build consensus.
    • CRRAFT implemented a system that did not include certain capabilities desired by some transit agencies. Because of miscommunication regarding these capabilities, CRRAFT received mixed reviews of its usefulness.
    • Wheels of Wellness found that regular meetings to share operational problems and ideas were very useful.
  • Commit to Data Quality. ITS technologies can produce significant amounts of data, creating a challenge for agencies to manage and analyze those data. Efforts to analyze the data can yield important findings and can be used to improve operations.
    • At CCRTA a dedicated database manager was hired. A key function of the database manager was to investigate anomalies in the data and to utilize the data to optimize route efficiencies.
    • Tri-Met uses the data to identify areas of high usage levels by the transportation disadvantaged, so that improvements can be made as necessary. Tri-Met also mines the data to plan for capital improvements that help ensure transit equity for the transportation disadvantaged.
  • Be a "smart client" for vendor supplied software. In particular, it is important to look at the vendor's longevity and integration capability, avoid excessive modifications of the software's functionality, and insist on on-site training and support.
    • Flint MTA's first implementation of vendor supplied software failed because the agency insisted on an excessive number of site-specific modifications to the software. As a result, software updates and maintenance were very difficult and expensive. The success of the second implementation effort was due to Flint MTA's commitment to work within the scope of the software.

The six agencies profiled in this report were selected because of their success in applying ITS and other technologies for coordinating human services transportation and improving mobility for transportation disadvantaged populations. The insights provided in the lessons learned (described above) were common to many of the six sites. In addition, the report includes a separate list of site-specific lessons learned that may be useful to agencies deploying ITS in an effort to improve their human services transportation.