Develop long-term vision and goals for agency’s ITS program and ensure timely completion of long lead-time activities to support future ITS initiatives.
Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority's experience in deploying transit ITS
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United States

A Case Study on Applying the Systems Engineering Approach: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Chattanooga SmartBus Project


Chattanooga, Tennessee is a city of about 170,000 people (about 500,000 in the metropolitan area) located near the Tennessee-Georgia border. The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority's (CARTA) provides transit services for the City of Chattanooga and portions of nearby counties. CARTA serves this area by providing fixed-route bus service (16 routes), curb-to-curb transit for people with disabilities (Care-A-Van), a free electric shuttle in the downtown area, an incline railway up historic Lookout Mountain, several parking garages, and management for much of the on-street parking in the downtown area. It is a moderate-sized transit organization in a moderate-sized community. In 2003, CARTA undertook an ITS project, SmartBus, which entailed introduction of many interdependent technologies across the entire range of CARTA operations:

  • Various network technologies were deployed to provide connectivity across CARTA's fixed and mobile assets
  • Technologies were deployed to help automate and modernize many field operations, such as automatic passenger counters and new bus fare boxes
  • Technologies were deployed to help automate and modernize many back office operations, such as new dispatch and revenue management systems
  • A data warehouse was developed to consolidate data collected during CARTA operations, and reporting tools were created to take advantage of this data warehouse

The deployment was challenging and susceptible to risks of failure. Effectively managing the risks, CARTA successfully implemented the SmartBus technologies over a period of 6 years, from 2003 to 2009, with most of the deployment completed. In November 2009, the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) of the United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) published an independent evaluation report documenting CARTA’s experiences in planning and implementing the SmartBus project. Presented below are lessons learned from CARTA’s experience that could be beneficial to other mid-size transit agencies’ planning for implementation of ITS program.

Lessons Learned

The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority's (CARTA) SmartBus ITS program offers valuable guidance on the utility of crafting vision and goals and developing a systems overview or operations plan while implementing ITS at a mid-size transit agency. Lessons learned from CARTA’s practice of developing vision, goals, and systems overview/operations plan are identified below.

  • Develop and update agency’s ITS concept of operations plan annually to ensure having a current roadmap for agency’s ITS program. In 2004, CARTA prepared a System Overview Update report, which is akin to a Concept of Operations plan, to document a long-term vision of how agency wanted to use ITS. The report included the following key items:
    • A Chattanooga Regional Transit ITS Overview Diagram that depicted the current and planned ITS technologies [1]
    • Vision and goals
    • Descriptions of deployed ITS technologies
    • Descriptions of ongoing and planned procurements
    • An implementation schedule

    CARTA updated its concept of operations plan annually to reflect changes that occurred in the previous year as well as plans for the upcoming years, such that this document always provided CARTA with a roadmap of where the agency was and where it was headed with its ITS program. This activity provided CARTA with some notable benefits including an understanding of its vision and goals as well as actions necessary to implement the ITS program.

  • Formulate and utilize agency’s long term vision for ITS program to take advantage of relevant funding opportunities. Having a documented long-term vision helped CARTA take advantage of short-term opportunities that arose. For example, CARTA was approached by the University of Tennessee (UT) at Chattanooga with funding to support the installation of arrival time signs at several bus stops on CARTA routes in the UT Chattanooga campus. At the time that this opportunity became available, CARTA did not have all of the systems in place to support real-time bus arrival time information. Realizing that real-time arrival time information was consistent with its long-term plans, CARTA re-organized its planned deployment activities to fast-track those items needed to support arrival time signs.
  • Identify and understand agency’s goals for ITS program and sequence the long lead-time activities early enough for their timely completion to support the long-term goals. First, understanding the long-term goals helped CARTA ensure that all the necessary preliminary activities were completed to support the long-term goals. This was particularly important with regard to long lead-time items with a long lifetime, such as bus purchases. For example, in 2006 CARTA added requirements that bus purchases include multiplex systems to better support the agency's plans for automated vehicle monitoring (AVM). A bus with multiplex system allows the AVM to perform enhanced monitoring of more devices than a bus without a multiplex system can do. The AVM system on older CARTA buses monitors fewer devices than the system on those purchased after 2006.

Developing a systems overview (or concept of operations) plan early on is a useful exercise to achieve success in implementing an ITS program that will increase efficiency and mobility in transit operations. As narrated above, vision, long-term goals, synergistic project sequencing are some of the key elements that can benefit vastly from the preparation of an overview plan.

[1] For a comprehensive systems overview diagram, see Figure 2 of the source document

A Case Study on Applying the Systems Engineering Approach: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Chattanooga SmartBus Project

A Case Study on Applying the Systems Engineering Approach: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Chattanooga SmartBus Project
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Haas, R.; E. Perry; J. Rephlo
U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration

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System Engineering Elements

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