Small and rural transit agencies can benefit from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies; however, they frequently lack the resources to assess their technology needs and to fund the implementation of ITS. Another problem is that vendors often develop systems for larger agencies, and these more complicated systems are ill suited to meeting the needs of smaller, rural transit agencies.
The purpose of this research is to identify and examine available and emerging ITS technologies, their benefits, and their deployment potential to rural transit systems. This study includes a literature review of previous research, as well as interviews with five rural agencies that have implemented or are planning to implement ITS technologies. The five agencies are:
- The Kansas Department of Transportation (DOT),
- The Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska,
- Iowa DOT,
- California DOT, and
- Oregon DOT
Data on the agencies' needs and the planned or implemented technology was gathered. Further analysis reviewed each of the technologies to determine the benefits of the product, additional infrastructure required, and the costs. This research includes organizational information from the agencies and historical project evolution, so that other agencies in similar situations or looking to implement similar technologies can understand what may be involved. System integration with existing or planned statewide or regional systems is also addressed. The findings, presented as a set of lessons learned, are offered to assist other small and rural agencies considering ITS implementations.
Communications and interoperability between agencies becomes much easier if all the agencies in one state have the same system or equipment. This permits information to flow between those agencies in a seamless fashion and allows agencies to blend services if and when the agencies feel it is in the customer’s best interests. For example, there may be a "route planning" program for the entire state that combines information from all the agencies, or there may be a smart card that can be used throughout a state. Efforts to achieve interoperability also may receive additional funding from the federal government, as such efforts support current federal initiatives for regional solutions and standards.
- Create a system that allows the state to manage the implementations as a whole and to tie in each individual transit agency. In Iowa, interoperability between all local transit operators in the state is the basis of the statewide intelligent transportation system (ITS) architecture. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has developed a template for agreements and contracts for ITS, and if the transit agencies would like to participate in the statewide programs, they must sign on and agree to its terms. At this time, each agency has a system that can only be accessed by that agency, and there is no sharing of information.
- Develop standards that can be easily understood by the agencies that will adhere to them as part of the ITS Architecture Guidelines. The California DOT, in conjunction with the California Polytechnic (Cal Poly) State University developed a conceptual framework for ITS solutions based on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) National ITS Architecture Guidelines and the National Transit Coordinate Interface Protocol (TCIP) to ensure uniformity and compatibility with other systems. Open standard transit management software was developed by Cal Poly to govern the system. It was developed using open source code so that others can understand and adapt the program as necessary. The technology solutions also included:
- dynamic messaging signs for real-time information run on solar power.
- central dispatch software and real-time web maps on bus locations.
- silent alarms for emergency situations.
- radio frequency modems for transmission of digital data over voice radio links.
- card reader inputs for magnetic or electronic fare media.
In most cases, integration with state and National ITS Architecture is imminent, making it wise for rural transit agencies to develop systems using open standards and established guidelines. This way, integration is more easily achieved. In the development of standards and guidelines it is important for state DOTs to ensure they will be easily understood by the agencies developing systems under such guidelines.