Manage impacts of technology advancements on TMC operations.
A Survey of National TMC Operators Identifies Strategies for Managing Technology Impacts on TMCs
Made Public Date

Impacts of Technology Advancements on Transportation Management Center Operations


The FHWA Office of Transportation Management sponsored a report to provide guidance to TMCs and transportation management agencies on how to better position themselves operationally in anticipation of future technology changes and advancements. Eight top trends of TMC operations were identified, including those that come from both within and outside the transportation community. A total of 80 individual strategies were presented to assist TMC managers with addressing the trends. The strategy descriptions include successful practice examples and key references as applicable. Recognizing the potential difficulties in successfully implementing individual strategies, the report also presents tools for building a framework for the technology and mindset developments.

Lessons Learned

Some of the most transforming implications for TMC operations identified in the report are based on the proliferation of wireless communication, the rise of social media, and the involvement of third parties. The 80 TMC strategies developed to help TMC managers with addressing new technology trends highlight some of the lessons learned in dealing with these new technologies. Below are lessons learned highlights extracted from the 80 TMC strategies:

  • Create a new technology piloting and testing program. A program of testing and piloting new technologies can reduce the risk associated with implementing new technologies. TMC managers can start by creating a pilot plan that identifies objectives, participants, deployment schedule, and evaluation period and begin testing in a controlled environment in which operators perform their normal tasks using the new technology. This demonstrates that the technology works as expected and adds value to TMC functions. Use Open-Source or Non-Proprietary Software when possible. Open-source or non-proprietary software may have the advantages of lower initial costs (if there is existing open-source or non-proprietary software available) and increased interoperability. However, depending on the software and its source, there may be less support available. (Developing new code will be more expensive and will carry more risk than using existing, proven software.) Careful consideration must be given by the agency, including weighing in-house and otherwise accessible support capabilities.
  • Require Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and document for future development. With the worldwide proliferation of Smartphones, tablet computers, and other mobile devices, it is critical that DOTs include requirements that allow and support the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) when contracting or developing traveler information software. APIs are a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications and they guarantee that all programs using the API will have similar interfaces and make it easier for operators to learn new programs.
  • Follow the Systems Engineering processes. The systems engineering process, and the corollary FHWA Rule 940, grew out of acknowledgement that ITS systems are complex and dynamic. These systems require good management and control processes to achieve successful deployment and operations.
  • Consider implementing Integrated Corridor Management (ICM) as part of a TMC. ICM utilizes a coordinated and integrated set of systems and tools across modes along a corridor (which may include multiple parallel roadways and tracks) to underpin a multi-jurisdictional, multi-modal, and multi-technological approach to maximizing efficiency.
  • Look for opportunities to share resources with other agencies (e.g., communication networks, cameras). As more agencies implement ITS field devices, there is a greater potential to share resources. There are, however, institutional barriers, such as priority of image control, and technological barriers, such as communications protocols, that must be addressed.
  • Consider increased network reliability and data security needs. Pricing projects require a data intensive environment that is predicated on real time operations and financial management. This requires communications network reliability and data security beyond the normal DOT standards. These network and security needs must be considered as the pricing system is being developed.
  • Use multiple data sources to monitor system congestion, including supporting travel time estimation. Legacy sensors, such as pavement loops on freeways, can be supplemented with many different technologies. As different options have different costs and strengths, having a data fusion engine can greatly increase the opportunities that agencies have to develop reliable monitoring of system congestion and estimation of travel times.
  • Utilize features in software to track and report performance. Central system software is often the main generator and repository of system data that a TMC manager has access to. The data produced can be overwhelming, though. Identifying desired performance data and then setting up a customized report that can run automatically can be of great value.
  • Utilize on-board device data from agency vehicles to monitor pavement condition. As the cost of sensors drop, it becomes feasible to collect data by outfitting agency vehicles engaged in their normal activities to collect basic information
  • Develop decision support systems. Decision Support Systems (DSSs) are computer applications that enhance the operator's ability to make informed decisions.
  • Install remote power cycling of field devices. In instances where field devices have crashed or are unresponsive, remotely powering off/on through a wireless communication link between the device and the TMC allow for instant recovery in surveillance and data collection and less downtime for the device to come back online if a crew member needed to go out in the field and hit the reset button.
  • Because the private sector often develops the automation tools, support strong development participation to provide better tailored tools. Creating strong, respectful relationships and partnerships between agencies and private developers add value when requesting customized software applications that support automated functions. Developers are more apt to have a better understanding of agencies needs and can offer insight on new technologies and trends focusing on automated traffic management tools.
  • Develop a data fusion engine to merge data from multiple sources, such as travel time information coming from toll tag readers, Bluetooth sensors, and/or third party providers. An automated data fusion engine is designed to integrate multiple forms of raw data from different types of sensors, process and arrange the data into subsets, and present them in a way that provides a clear, more accurate picture for the operator to draw conclusions from, creating situational awareness. Consider use of applicable standards to simplify data exchange, such as XML. XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a standard common to data integration in IT systems and is becoming the default standard for complex data exchange over IP networks.
  • Develop procedures and protocols for use of social media. Develop a uniform policy for DOT use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and video distribution platforms such as YouTube, among others. Social media can provide an important connection to users to disseminate travel warnings and alerts, as well as promote projects or public interest campaigns.
  • Support two-way information exchange via social media. Social media can provide a valuable tool to reach out to travelers and residents, but also can provide an important source of data for the TMC.
  • Designate a larger or statewide TMC to take responsibility for social media alerts on behalf of multiple agencies in a region. A regionally centralized TMC that has the capacity to handle dissemination of all traffic alerts to social media sites allows for consistent messaging across DMS, social media sites, and other traveler information outlets.
  • Utilize Crowdsourcing for traffic information, incident information, feedback on department performance, pavement roughness, etc. Crowdsourcing would enable real-time feedback from users on a variety of transportation issues and impacts, with an emphasis on crowdsourced information.

Successful practices in emerging technologies begin to show how TMC managers can harness technology to improve the effectiveness of their operations. As pressures mount, TMCs will need to implement suites of these technologies and processes to meet the needs within increasingly limited budgets. In order to make such changes, TMC managers need to develop the organizational structures and tools to deal with rapidly evolving technologies, processes, funding requirements, and customer service expectations. This report provides a comprehensive collection of strategies and tools to assist in the successful management of technology impacts on TMCs.