The Best Practices in Rural Transit ITS project was conducted to identify planning and operational best practices for applying ITS to rural transit. The project team gathered information through case studies to produce the Best Practices recommendations. On-site case studies were performed at the following rural transit agencies:
- The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) in Austin, TX;
- St. Johns County, Marion County, and Putnam County, FL;
- The Public Transportation Programs Bureau (PTPB), a division of the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department;
- Ottumwa Transit Authority (OTA) in Ottumwa, IA; and
- River Valley Transit in Williamsport, PA.
The on-site visits consisted of conducting interviews with staff from different levels of the agency, including operations, management, and maintenance staff. The ITS technologies were then catalogued and the case study results were synthesized into a number of recommendations and lessons learned. Lessons were developed in a number of areas, including: training, institutional and organizational issues, technology, funding and other financial considerations, planning and procurement, installation and implementation, and lastly, operational lessons learned.
All ITS projects inherently have a number of institutional and organizational issues that are uncovered during the project deployment. In fact, these issues have often presented the most significant challenges to a successful ITS project installation and operation, rather than the technical side of the deployment. The following lessons highlight some of the issues, and their recommended resolutions, that occur during implementation. By understanding the types of issues that might arise, other agencies can be prepared to deal with them at the outset of their ITS projects.
- Make sure all stakeholders are involved in the project, especially in the initial planning and design stage. It is important to include all of the stakeholders in the planning process to ensure that their needs will be met by the new technology. This may include maintenance, drivers, customer service, and operations planning functions. Involving these departments early on will also secure their cooperation later on in the deployment process. Additionally, it is important to involve other agencies that have a stake in the project (such as MPOs and regional FTA staff) in order to make sure their needs are being met as well. The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) ensures that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), who they lease their airtime from, is involved in any ITS project planning process since the outcome of such projects could affect or be affected by the LCRA’s radio system.
- Develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for projects that involve multiple agencies, to help clarify each participant's responsibilities. In Florida the rural transit providers, called Community Transportation Coordinators (CTC) are all part of statewide project undertaken by the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD). Each CTC has been required to sign an MOU with the CTD, outlining each party’s responsibilities. These documents have been important in helping the CTCs understand early on what would be involved in participating in the project.
- Anticipate organizational changes. Try to anticipate the organizational changes that will be necessary once the technology is implemented, so that organizational disruption is minimized when the deployment is complete. For example, the implementation of an automated fare collection and revenue control system may prompt the reorganization of the revenue department or the addition of staff. These organizational impacts should be considered during the design stage so that they can be handled appropriately well in advance of the implementation stage.
- Use ITS solutions as a means to foster better cooperation and coordination between project participants. Prior to implementation of the Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) software in New Mexico, there was little coordination between the transportation operators and case workers. The software has greatly improved both the cooperation between these groups, as well as the consistency of information available to them.
- Be flexible in the face of changing project participants. While ideally all of the participants involved at the outset of a project will remain with the project until its completion, this is not always the case. The ability to recover from unforeseen events is an important skill to foster with any ITS implementation, particularly those that involve a number of different participants. In Florida, the CTC designation changed in Alachua and Levy counties, causing the termination of the counties' participation in the project. However, the CTD was able to transfer the equipment from Alachua and Levy Counties to another rural county, and thus did not lose the resources they had invested in that CTC.
- Identify how the project will benefit participants. It may be necessary to demonstrate to participants that the ITS application will benefit them directly. Although it may be difficult to quantify these benefits, providing at least a description of how participants can use the system to improve their operation can greatly increase their willingness to participate in the project.
- Be open to working with new agencies and staff. Rural transit systems are accustomed to communicating with State DOTs, which generally provide the bulk of their funding. However, with ITS demonstration projects, they may suddenly need to deal with other agencies, such as the FTA. Funding from different agencies may mean that the rural operator is faced with multiple reporting requirements, and they need to be prepared for this change. Note that the case studies show that there has been good support from State DOTs and the U.S. DOT’s ITS peer-to-peer program for rural agencies deploying new technologies.
- Involve drivers in the installation and implementation of in-vehicle systems. It is important for drivers to "buy into" the system since they are a key component of agencies' operations and they have to live with the technology as much as or more than any other transit staff member. However, drivers often experience "big brother" fears, particularly with the installation of Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems that track their locations. At the Ottumwa Transit Authority, in Ottumwa, Iowa, reports generated with AVL system data have been used to resolve customer complaints in drivers' favor, which has helped with driver acceptance of the system. Also, at River Valley Transit, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the vendor set up a sample Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) in the driver's room a few weeks prior to installation so that drivers could become familiar and comfortable with it.
Anticipating and preparing for the different institutional and organizational issues that arise during ITS projects will assist agencies in facilitating a smoother implementation process. Developing formal agreements that outline each agency’s responsibilities, anticipating change, and fostering good communication among the players are all strategies for successful deployments. Providing project stakeholders with a good idea of the goals of the project and their role in accomplishing that goal will also help build a common understanding of the process and its ultimate performance. Maintaining flexibility throughout the process is crucial for agencies to be able to deal with any unforeseen changes that may occur. Finally, giving specific agency employees, who will be users of the system, an investment in its success is an important ingredient for implementing ITS technology.
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