Telecommunications infrastructure is important in enabling Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to function, as it ties together and moves data between the major elements of an ITS, including roadside equipment, vehicles, the vehicle operator and central operations facilities (such as transportation management centers). Through integrating the individual elements of an ITS, telecommunications provides a critical technical function to the system, and can act as a mechanism for enhancing overall transportation efficiency. Telecommunications also comprises a significant share of the cost of an ITS, both in terms of implementation and operations and maintenance.
Arriving at the telecommunications solution that best suits agencies' needs is a high priority, but it can be a challenge. This is largely due to the rapid pace of change in telecommunications and the skills required to understand and assess different telecommunications alternatives. This report is designed to provide assistance on what processes work best and what factors should be considered when making telecommunications decisions. A number of the best techniques for exploring telecommunications alternatives are presented to help agencies determine the optimal alternative in support of their ITS program.
For this study, the telecommunications experiences of state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and agencies from across the country were examined. In particular, examples of successful practices in ITS telecommunications were drawn from California, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In many cases, agencies do not have the personnel with the skills necessary to operate and maintain an ITS telecommunications network. The telecommunications industry is large and complex, with a set of technical disciplines that DOTs may not be familiar with. If agencies do not have the appropriate staff for operating and maintaining a telecommunications network, they should procure appropriate support services.
The following set of lessons learned highlight key elements in the procuring and contracting of telecommunications support services.
- Design a Request For Proposal (RFP) that is both complete and specific. The RFP should specify all of the services desired, under what conditions they must be performed, and the resources that are required. The RFP should consider operations and maintenance, as well as any additional services that may be needed for network modifications or expansions.
- Specify a structure for the bidder's pricing or rates. The RFP should include an allowance for unsuspected conditions that may emerge from network modification or expansion. The maintenance contractor for the INFORM ITS system on Long Island was allowed a specified number of weeks to identify such circumstances that could be considered exceptions to its financial responsibility for repair.
- Determine the criteria for selection. The agency needs to carefully consider on what bases the selection decision will be made. A reliance on price alone as the determinant may not be adequate, given the technical complexity often involved with telecommunications solutions. Rather, agencies should consider a range of factors, such as qualifications, experience, key personnel, and price.
- Consider the impact of the length of the contract. The length of the contract is a significant determinant of price and level of satisfaction. Contractors tend to offer more aggressive pricing for longer contracts. A commonly used contract structure is to have a "base" period with multiple options years. In addition, it is important that agencies are able to terminate the contract at key points for poor service.
- Recognize that the type of contract affects the level of risk sharing. With a fixed price contract, the financial risk rests primarily with the contractor, but this type of contract is only recommended if the network is in good shape, as contractors will levy a significant risk penalty in their prices. Agencies obtain maximum flexibility from a cost-plus type of contract, where it is possible to specify the types and levels of service on a reasonably real-time basis.
- Develop a contract that can be easily amended. Over the course of a contract, a network is likely to grow, or modifications may be necessary. To the extent that the amendment process can be simplified, this will make it easier for agencies to procure the services they need to meet changing requirements.
- Consider the location of the contractor's staff. The location of the contractor staff has an influence on the delivery of services. Milwaukee's MONITOR system contracted for full-time service positions on-site, so that the contractor’s personnel could respond to short-term MONITOR needs.
For many ITS telecommunications solutions, the procurement and contracting of support services are necessary, as agencies do not always have the staff with the required expertise. Agencies must give careful consideration to a number of key elements in the procurement and contracting of services, as their decisions will have an impact on the overall cost of a project, as well as on the quality of the services acquired. Through thoughtful attention to the procurement package and contract, agencies are more likely to obtain a telecommunications solution that meets their needs.
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