Advancing community transportation through coordination using ITS - lessons learned from Aiken (South Carolina)
The initiative Mobility Services for All Americans (MSAA), launched by the U,S, DOT as a result of an Executive Order signed by the President in 2004, aims to improve the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of transportation services for transportation-disadvantaged people. Conducted in partnership with state and local agencies, the initiative facilitates the coordination of community transportation services by deploying ITS transit applications. Prior to the MSAA, access to transportation services was greatly limited in many places for elderly, low-income, and disabled people. Further, the services that were available were often poorly coordinated among different agencies and within regions. Conducted in partnership with state and local agencies, the MSAA enables coordinated services between agencies (such as between a veterans health clinic and a senior center), resulting in streamlined operations, improved customer satisfaction, and cost reductions.
A major outcome of the MSAA is the Travel Management Coordination Center (TMCC) demonstration project, which facilitates the deployment of ITS transit technologies to improve the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of community transportation services. The TMCC uses ITS, most predominately Computer-Aided Scheduling and Dispatching (CASD), to enable real-time traveler information capability and operational coordination across institutions and agencies.
A six-county region near Aiken, South Carolina illustrates the benefits of deploying ITS transit technologies for community transportation. Ten years ago, the region was without a regional, coordinated transportation system, with four of the six counties lacking public transit systems. At that time, access to public transportation was severely limited, with transportation-disadvantaged groups being fully reliant on non-transit entities such as senior centers for transport to medical care and other necessities. To remedy this problem, the Lower Savannah Council of Governments (LSCOG) took the lead to develop a regional transportation network. To support this effort, the LSCOG was awarded grants from the Administration on Aging (AoA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2003 and 2005. In 2008, the U.S. DOT selected the Aiken region to be a TMCC demonstration site and in 2010, the TMCC became operational.
Researchers from the U.S. DOT conducted a preliminary, qualitative assessment of the impacts of the ITS transit technologies on transportation services in the Aiken TMCC. The assessment was conducted after the Aiken TMCC became operational in 2010 and used field observations made in one of six counties served by the TMCC as well as formal interviews with stakeholders who were directly involved in the project.
The integration of ITS transit technologies into the TMCC improved the coordination of transportation services within the region and an improvement in operational efficiency. The assessment identified benefits from the deployment of the following ITS transit applications in particular.
- Reservations, Scheduling and Dispatch (RSD) System. The RSD allows the Aiken TMCC the ability to coordinate transportation services across the area's six counties and between its five public transit agencies. The RSD also improved the ability of the TMCC to coordinate with partner agencies when customers must reach a destination that is outside of the region.
- Fixed Route Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD)/Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL). CAD/AVL technology enables the TMCC to monitor and adhere to a fixed route transit schedule in real-time. Because the fixed route technology is integrated with a demand response system, the TMCC has the capability of providing information to customers on bus location and the time-of-arrival of the next bus.
- Mobile Data Computers (MDC). Approximately 100 network vehicles carry MDC. The MDC is a fully automated communication system between the network vehicles, the TMCC, and the dispatch center. Communications are conducted in real-time, and allows flexibility in demand response scheduling by allowing dispatch to request changes from the vehicles in routing and scheduling. The result is a system with shorter turn-around times and quicker responses to passenger requests, all conducted in a paperless environment.
- An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system provides an automated notification service that issues a day-before phone reminder to customers about their scheduled ride. By allowing customers to confirm or cancel their upcoming trip on a per trip basis, the IVR creates the capability for the TMCC to manage last-minute changes as well as reduce costly cancellations of rides, or no-shows. The IVR also phones the customer about 15 minutes before arrival to alert the customer to be ready for pick-up, which reduces wait times.
- A Web Portal integrated with the RSD enables the management of transportation services on the Internet. Network partners, including private and not-for-profit transportation providers, have full access to the portal, in which they and their customers submit, modify, receive and confirm trip requests. The portal is a system for all users of the TMCC transportation network (travelers, managers, transportation providers, etc.) to communicate in real-time and coordinate services.
- 800 Mhz radios installed on partnering network vehicles and in the TMCC enable voice communications between driver and dispatch in remote areas that do not have a data signal. The radios also provide the capability of TMCC entities to communicate with statewide emergency management and law enforcement agencies.
- The average trip distance among non-Medicaid demand response trips dropped by 18 percent, from 12.1 miles per trip in 2008, to 9.9 miles per trip in 2011.
- The average trip distance for non-emergency Medicaid trips dropped by 40 percent, from an 20.9 miles per trip in 2008, to 12.6 miles per trip in 2011.
- The average number of trips per vehicle increased from 6.5 in 2009 to 7.5 in 2011 (indicating a productivity increase).