The Best Practices in Rural Transit ITS project was conducted to identify planning and operational best practices for applying ITS to rural transit. 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 on-site visits consisted of conducting interviews with staff from different levels of the agency, including operations, management, and maintenance staff. The ITS technologies were then catalogued and the case study results were synthesized into a number of recommendations and lessons learned. Lessons were developed in a number of areas, including: training, institutional and organizational issues, technology, funding and other financial considerations, planning and procurement, installation and implementation, and lastly, operational lessons learned.
Training staff in the use of transit ITS resources is as important, if not even more important, in small rural transit agencies as it is in much larger transit agencies. Smaller agencies cannot afford redundancy in staff capability, and are more dependent on their employees to cover multiple roles. Along with the initial training as the project deployment evolves, it is equally important to provide ongoing training as systems become operational. The case study highlighted the lesson that by providing sufficient staff training, transit agencies experience smoother ITS deployments and more efficient operations. All transit agencies in the case study have placed added emphasis on training, and from their experiences a list of lessons learned has been assembled:
- Initiate in-house training with a train-the-trainer approach. The train-the trainer approach has proven very popular with transit agencies for numerous knowledge transfer experiences. On the ITS front, this approach can help cut down the costs associated with bringing in outside parties to train staff members as well as building an in-house training capability which has obvious benefits. In-house training examples include:
- Employees of The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) in Austin, TX attend annual Trapeze (CARTS software provider) user group meetings in Arizona, and trained staff conduct additional staff training as needed.
- Trained staff from the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CDT) in St. Johns, and Putnam Counties provides new participants with substantial amounts of peer-training and technical assistance with their RouteLogic software. The new participants found the training helpful from a technical aspect and also in facilitating cooperation between members of the various Community Transportation Coordinators (CTC).
- In New Mexico the Alliance for Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) conducts regional training on the Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) system for transit system staff. A training session is held in four of the five New Mexico Human Services Department regions. Each transit agency can send two representatives who then go back to their facility and train other personnel.
- Allow for sufficient time to train end-users, and budget for ongoing support. Transit agencies in Florida had a number of unexpected costs in the first few months of implementation, including expenses for overtime as staff tried to get accustomed with the system and get it up and running. The CTC in St. Johns County felt the formal training could have been better, and that training after upgrades was scarce. In New Mexico the ATRI is considering using Web-based training tools to supplement on-site training. This will provide the necessary means for the ATRI to maintain ongoing training as the system evolves.
- Include a pilot phase in the implementation process where hardware is installed on only a portion of the fleet and fully tested before full installation and use that as a training opportunity. Piloting helps eliminate any bugs in the system prior to installing hardware on the vehicles and offers staff a pre-operational training experience. In Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the contractor responsible for Williamsport's Traveler Information System (TIS) set up a sample Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) in the drivers room at the bus terminal in order to familiarize operators with the system before implementation on the entire fleet. Also, in Austin, TX, CARTS included a pilot phase in the implementation process of their MDT's, where the live system was installed on only a portion of the fleet. The purpose of the pilot was to complete end-to-end testing of the Mobile Data System under real-life conditions so that any remaining system issues could be identified and addressed.
- Develop regional sharing networks to facilitate communication between staff members from multiple agencies on advancements in ITS resources. With the exchange of information among neighboring agencies, staff are able to learn from the experiences of their peers, and find ways to improve their current practice(s). In Austin, TX, CARTS is currently working closely with other Texas operators to start a Texas Trapeze users group.
This lesson illustrates the importance for rural transit agencies to adequately train their staff in transit ITS throughout the deployment process. Sufficiently training staff members is crucial for installation and usage of ITS resources to run smoothly. By providing ample amounts of initial and on-going staff training, agencies have demonstrated ways in which training can be provided at a more reasonable cost while developing in-house training capabilities. The lesson also illustrates the importance of budgeting sufficient monies to cover training costs. Because some users may have difficulties in initially adapting to these new technologies, it is imperative to allow enough time for all staff members to be trained and brought up to speed on new technology. Transit agencies have accomplished this by promoting in-house training, including training during the pilot phase in the installation process and by working closely with neighboring agencies to share experiences.
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