Sponsored by the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office (JPO) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the objective of the study was to identify operational best practices and related technology for applying ITS to rural transit. The project team found that at the time of the study in 2002, few rural properties had moved from the ITS planning stage to procurement and implementation. 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 case studies highlighted a number of benefits that have emerged from rural transit ITS deployments. The report presents overall benefits, as well as benefits for each specific technology deployed.
The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) rural transit Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) project uses a sophisticated 900 MHz two-way radio system combined with automated demand responsive transportation scheduling software. CARTS leases airtime on the state-of-the art radio system operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Installation of CART’s radio system began in 1998, and the system was fully operational by 2000. The paratransit scheduling and dispatch software was purchased in 1994, and upgraded to the Windows version in 1999. In 2000, CARTS closed its three remote scheduling and dispatch offices and centralized all scheduling, dispatch and operations in its main office. At the time of the report, CARTS was in the process of procuring and deploying an integrated Automated Vehicle Location/Mobile Data Terminal (AVL/MDT) system. However, since its benefits had not yet been realized, they are not included in this summary.
CART’s continuing goal for deploying ITS technologies is to increase customer service and expand availability of service. CARTS is responsible for serving nine rural counties in the greater Austin, TX region, a service area encompassing 123 communities and over 7,500 square miles. CARTS provides:
- Fixed-route transit in three municipalities.
- A network of inter-county services, with connections to inter-city bus service.
- Commuter service from park & ride lots from two communities to downtown Austin.
- Fixed schedule or demand responsive transit to thousands of general public passengers.
- A variety of services for human service customers.
The system has a fleet of 75 vehicles, which carry an average of 1,200 one-way daily trips. Of these, about 75% are demand responsive paratransit trips. The CARTS dispatch center includes five reservationists, two dispatchers, one scheduler, three supervisors and a number of managers.
The research team conducted a two day site visit. The on-site visits consisted of conducting interviews with staff from different levels of the agency, including operations, management and maintenance staff. The team also spoke with the manager of the radio system from which CARTS leases space.
CARTS has realized a number of benefits from implementing the radio system and paratransit software:
- Better customer service – The software has allowed all passengers to receive the same treatment and level of service, by requiring a uniform approach to reservations and scheduling. In addition, reservation agents work more quickly, thus reducing call time and hold time.
- Better scheduling - Reservation agents and dispatchers are able to schedule more same-day trips and provide better connections for customers traveling between different service areas.
- More efficient staffing - The software and new radio system have allowed CARTS to consolidate all of its dispatch functions in one location, reducing staffing needs. The consolidation has increased system performance and the uniformity of service. It has also allowed staff to be more specialized, and better share duties with each other.
In addition to these technology-specific benefits, the research team identified a number of benefits that were common to all of the five rural ITS deployments that they studied:
- Increased agency collaboration – ITS projects can foster the development of better working relationships and partnerships between agencies. For example, CARTS developed an excellent relationship with LCRA, its radio system provider.
- Potential for increased ridership and revenue – ITS increases the attractiveness of the transit service, which could potentially increase ridership and farebox revenues.
- Increased community confidence – ITS deployments have the potential to increase community confidence in the agency’s ability to operate an efficient, effective transportation system.
- Increased self-confidence of agency staff – Through education and exposure to technology, agency staff self-confidence may increase.
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