Implementation of radio system combined with AVL/MDT technology leads to increase in trip productivity and better vehicle maintenance in a large service area with low population density.
Made Public Date


United States

Rural Transit ITS Best Practices

Summary Information

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.


The Ottumwa Transit Authority (OTA) is responsible for providing bus service in Ottumwa, Iowa and the surrounding 10-county area, covering 5,000 square miles. The OTA serves a population of 140,000 people, or about 28 persons per square mile, through both fixed route and demand response services. The authority operates 51 vehicles: nine fixed route vehicles, two paratransit vehicles, and 40 demand response vehicles. The OTA was selected for the case study because it represented a significant ITS installation in a large service area with a low population density.

OTA installed a four-tower, 150 MHz radio system to provide communications for its Automatic Vehicle Location/Mobile Data Terminal (AVL/MDT) system. At the time of the site visit, the package had been in place for about 18 months. Scheduling and dispatch software had been installed but was not in use at the time of the study.

OTA’s system features a form-based MDT log/pre-trip procedure that requires drivers to transmit information to central dispatch regarding the mechanical condition of a vehicle. This feature is useful for the approximately 40 vehicles that are garaged at drivers' homes, some of which are over 50 miles away from OTA headquarters. The OTA uses the pre-trip information to determine if maintenance should be scheduled at the agency’s central garage or could be repaired by one of its subcontracted, out-of-county mechanics.


The research team visited the OTA in Ottumwa, Iowa on January 29 and 20, 2002. The team interviewed the Transit Administrator, drivers, and dispatchers. Dispatchers were also observed and questioned while they used the system to obtain a first-hand understanding of how the ITS application works.


The OTA managers noted a number of benefits, including:

  • Service Efficiency – Dispatchers can observe where vehicles are located, allowing them to more efficiently schedule trips. The ability to track drivers using the AVL and log-on/log-off feature of the MDT allows the Transit Administrator to better manager drivers’ time and pay hours.
  • Safety and Security – Since the system vehicles, drivers, and passengers are so dispersed, the communications links provided by the AVL/MDT system are very important from a safety and security perspective. Dispatchers can respond more quickly to incidents because they know exactly where the vehicles are.
  • Vehicle scheduling/maintenance – The pre-trip report from the AVL allows staff to perform better load balancing by helping them assign vehicles to balance mileage and useful life. It also enables staff to determine the best location for vehicle repair. The vehicle activity reports assist with vehicle scheduling and management.
  • Billing and Reimbursement – With the addition of the scheduling and dispatch software, the OTA hopes to reduce the reporting time for funding agencies. At the time of the report, the OTA had one full-time employee dedicated to this task.

In addition to these benefits, the research team identified a number of benefits that were common to all of the five rural ITS deployments that they studied:

  • Increased agency collaboration – ITS projects can foster the development of better working relationships and partnerships between agencies.
  • 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.

Rural Transit ITS Best Practices

Rural Transit ITS Best Practices
Publication Sort Date
Joana Conklin, Carol Schweiger, Buck Marks, Yehuda Gross, William Wiggins, Karen Timpone
Federal Highway Administration, U.S. DOT

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