Identify financial resources and expected costs to conduct a cost/benefit analysis.
Nationwide experience with assisting transit system managers in deploying ITS.
Made Public Date

United States

United States

Technology in Rural Transit: Linking people with their community


The source document is a report designed to act as a planning tool for implementing Transit ITS in rural systems. It includes four sections: a guidebook for planning rural transit ITS applications, best practices in rural transit ITS, transit ITS case studies and transit ITS resources. This review only covers the lessons highlighted in the guidebook section. The purpose of the guidebook is to assist transit systems, especially the managers, in identifying and addressing present and future needs using ITS technologies. Among the lessons learned is the importance of using a three level approach when deploying ITS, identifying and learning about the available ITS technologies, identifying financial resources and the need to develop a database.

Lessons Learned

When planning for the implementation of rural transit ITS, a determination of required resources must be followed by efforts to obtain them within the allowable budgetary limits. The planning effort itself should not begin until resources, both financial and human, are secured. Resource availability is often the key limiting factor for rural transit systems. Funding for both the capital and operating expenses of rural transit systems is available at the federal, state, and local levels.

Explore the FTA Rural Transit Assistance Program: FTA's Rural Transit Assistance Program offers training materials, technical assistance and other support services for rural transit systems across the country. It is a good idea to find out about the federal agencies with assistance programs for rural clientele that purchase transportation for their clients from rural public transit agencies.

Investigate the use of private contributions: One funding source is private contributions for rural transit. The use of in-kind services by the grantee of up to 20% of the cost is frequently seen. Funds coming from FTA through the state DOTs are common. State and local tax funds also support rural transit in many states.

Share facilities and services costs with other organizations: The system manager should investigate the possibility of sharing costs with other organizations. The basis for sharing costs is the common use of facilities and services. Some rural transit operators in Minnesota are sharing communication facilities and AVL systems with Minnesota highway maintenance forces and the Minnesota State Police.

Share the costs of installing computer and internet-based systems: For rural transit operators that provide subscription transportation services to clients of federal, state, or local social service agencies, it may be possible to share the costs of installing computer and Internet-based systems that lower the cost or improve the efficiency of billing and payment.

Contact the DOT or FTA with funding questions: In many states the most useful initial contact for questions on fund availability is the transit assistance office of the state DOT. In the absence of such an office, a good starting point may be to contact your Regional FTA Office. The system manager should determine the level and timing of funding available to the system for Transit ITS system development and the requirements for plans and other information in order to qualify for various sources of funding.

Consider capital costs, maintenance costs, and operating costs:

  • The capital costs include the initial purchasing price of the software or hardware involved and the cost to get them up and running, the so-called installation costs.
  • The maintenance costs include just what you estimate it will cost to keep the new software and hardware up and running. These costs can vary greatly among alternative pieces of software or hardware that do essentially the same job. The best sources of maintenance cost estimates are people who have been using the item in question for at least several months in essentially the same environment as you intend to use it. Keep in mind that the vendor estimates are not always reliable.
  • Operating costs include staff training as the primary component. The level of complexity varies among different versions of computer hardware and software. Both staff turnover and the release of new versions of the software, and sometimes of the hardware, add to this cost. The cost of staff training reflects the relative user-friendliness of the different systems. The training cost should include both classroom and on-the-job (OJT) training. Additional components of Operating Costs may include differences in electricity use from the local electrical utility or from increased consumption of batteries.

Consider the benefits of capacity, reliability, and recoverability:

  • Capacity refers primarily to the amount of work that can be done in a given amount of time or the time it takes to do a particular amount of work. For example, an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system might increase the capacity of the dispatcher to schedule pick-ups from fifteen to twenty per hour. The use of AVL might also increase the average number of pick-ups per vehicle-hour from twelve to fifteen.
  • Reliability is the benefit achieved through the reduction of errors. Automatic passenger counters typically reduce errors in counting. Smart Cards reduce billing errors substantially. Transit system operations efficiency increases through improved reliability of the information that these applications provide.
  • Recoverability is an important benefit of Transit ITS applications. Information kept on paper is subject to misplacement or loss and can be difficult to find at times. It is also cumbersome to obtain needed data from paper files for data analysis. Electronic data systems increase the accessibility, availability, and, therefore, the recoverability of data and information. It directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of transit system operation.

If the project manager can apply monetary values to all the benefits and costs on a common time scale, he/she can obtain a monetary estimate of the degree to which the various alternatives contribute to the goal. Comparing available funding with expected costs will help to determine just how many of the needs can be met now and in the future. Those needs that cannot be met will have to wait for further funding. An increased knowledge of which needs can and cannot be met at which times may lead to increased agency productivity and efficiency.