Sponsored by the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the objective of the study was to identify operational best practices and related technology for applying ITS to rural transit. The project team found that at the time of the study in 2002, few rural properties had moved from the ITS planning stage to procurement and implementation. 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 case studies highlighted a number of benefits that have emerged from rural transit ITS deployments. The report presents overall benefits, as well as benefits for each specific technology deployed.
Located in Williamsport, PA, River Valley Transit (RVT) provides real-time customer information at its transit center. River Valley Transit uses a combination of automatic vehicle location (AVL) and mobile data terminals (MDT) technology to provide real-time in-terminal customer information. The Traveler Information System (TIS) informs customers both visually and audibly as to which of the 10 loading bays buses will arrive at and depart from. It also gives customers a 20-second notification before buses depart on their next trip. The system even notifies drivers when they have pulled into the wrong bus bay. River Valley Transit is looking at ways to extend the utility of the system and has investigated other ITS technologies.
The TIS was initiated as part of construction of a downtown transit center, designed to streamline transit operations in the downtown area, make River Valley Transit more accessible and convenient for riders, improve traffic, and stimulate economic development in the downtown area. In FY 1999, River Valley Transit provided over one million passenger trips on its fixed route system. At the time of the study, RVT had thirteen fixed routes, most of which operated out of the transit center building. Approximately 94% of the trips taken on RVT’s system flowed through the transit center.
The case study involved two researchers and a two day site visit. The on-site visits consisted of conducting interviews with staff from different levels of the agency, including operations, management and maintenance staff. The team also spoke with passengers using the Traveler Information System (TIS). As a result, the benefits described were primarily anecdotal in nature.
The successful implementation of the TIS had a number of benefits for customers and the transit agency:
- Better customer service – Customers receive better information, leading to increased satisfaction and possibly increased ridership. The in-terminal information system helps customers find the appropriate vehicle.
- Fewer inquiries to agency staff since customers are provided with better and timelier information.
- Better operations data allows agency staff to better manage customer complaints and revise bus schedules based on data from TIS reports.
- Increased accessibility for persons with disabilities – Customer information systems that include visual and audio announcements are especially helpful to people with disabilities.
- The transit center and the TIS project were a critical element in successful downtown development.
In addition to these technology-specific benefits, the research team identified a number of benefits that were common to all of the five rural ITS deployments that they studied:
- Potential for increased ridership and revenue – ITS increases the attractiveness of the transit service, which could potentially increase ridership and farebox revenues.
- Increased community confidence – ITS deployments have the potential to increase community confidence in the agency’s ability to operate an efficient, effective transportation system.
- Increased self-confidence of agency staff – Through education and exposure to technology, agency staff self-confidence may increase.
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