Evaluation of the South Lake Tahoe Coordinated Transit System (CTS) Project Phase III Evaluation Report
In 2000, the U.S. Congress earmarked funds for selected projects that were assessed as supporting improvements in transportation efficiency, promoting safety, increasing traffic flow, reducing emissions, improving traveler information, enhancing alternative transportation modes, building on existing intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and promoting tourism. Among the selected projects was the Tahoe Coordinated Transit System (CTS).
The CTS was viewed as a means of reducing congestion, protecting the environment and earning mitigation credits for redevelopment in the Lake Tahoe region. Through combining transit services offered by private and public sector stakeholders into one centrally dispatched operation that uses intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies, the CTS would also improve transit efficiency and create a more visitor friendly transit system. The CTS project spans the jurisdiction of two counties in two states, as well as one city, and incorporates the private transit resources of five casinos and one ski resort, with the aim of serving the market objectives of both the public and private sectors. The key features of the new system included:
- Automatic vehicle location (AVL)
- Mobile data terminals (MDT)
- Computer-aided dispatch (CAD)
- Automatic passenger counters (APC)
- Trip reservation/information kiosks
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for trip booking by telephone
- Traffic surveillance cameras
A U.S. DOT evaluation report has summarized findings from a system impact study that focuses primarily on assessing the impacts on ridership, customer satisfaction and operating efficiency. Findings from an institutional issues review and a set of lessons learned on deploying and operating the various ITS transit technologies are also presented.
As part of the CTS, kiosks were placed at key locations in the South Shore region of Lake Tahoe to support trip scheduling and dispatch services, provide transit and traveler information (e.g., traffic delays, weather, traffic surveillance feeds, information on local events and attractions) and support advertising. In the stakeholder interviews, challenges to the design and operation of the kiosks were discussed.
- Keep the kiosk user interface simple. The largest challenge with the kiosks was the user interface. The initial user interface required eight to nine steps to book a ride, and many passengers were not successfully completing all the required steps (though many of these thought they had successfully booked their trip). Just one month after the initial roll out, the stakeholders decided to shut down the operation of the kiosks. They redesigned the user interface so that booking a trip required only three steps. The kiosks were re-released about one month later with the updated interface. The stakeholders strongly recommended using focus groups comprised of riders of the system to assist in the design of the interface for the kiosks and the phone reservation system. Focus groups could have eliminated the need to reprogram the kiosks after the initial deployment.
- Understand who your users are. Lacking a sufficient understanding of the demographic characteristics of their transit riders, the CTS stakeholders overestimated the riders’ willingness to use a computer system to book rides. In particular, two demographic issues affected riders’ propensity to use the kiosks. First, a key factor was the age of riders and their related lack of exposure to computer systems. Secondly, since many of the riders are visitors to the area, they are unfamiliar with the system and may need some time to become acclimated to the new system. The fact that potential riders are on vacation poses another challenge, as tourists are less likely to want to spend time trying to figure out the system. Stakeholders noted that a demographic study of riders is an important step in understanding who will be using the system, and this information can be used to design a system that is best suited to their needs.
- Recognize the importance of the appearance of the kiosk. Based on feedback from riders, stakeholders indicated that some users were unsure of the specific function of the kiosks, and this affected their use of the technology. Some stakeholders felt that there was too much emphasis on restaurants and attractions on the screen, and this may have contributed to riders’ confusion about the primary purpose of the kiosks. Moreover, the appearance of the kiosk cabinet housing also added to their confusion about the purpose of the kiosk.
- Test technology systems prior to implementation. The CTS originally included an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to provide customers with access to trip scheduling and dispatching services by phone. However, shortly after roll-out, the system experienced technical problems, which resulted in a significant drop in ridership. The IVR system was removed from operation indefinitely until the problems could be resolved.
The CTS experienced operational problems with the original design of the kiosks and the IVR systems, which both lead to users being unable to book trips. While the kiosk user-interface was redesigned to be more user-friendly, the use of the computer system to book rides is still far below what the stakeholders predicted. By understanding the demographics of the ridership pool prior to designing the booking systems and adequately beta-testing the tools prior to deployment agencies will be able to design and operate trip booking systems that best meet the user’s needs.