The Best Practices in Rural Transit ITS project was conducted to identify planning and operational best practices for applying ITS to rural transit. 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 on-site visits consisted of conducting interviews with staff from different levels of the agency, including operations, management, and maintenance staff. The ITS technologies were then catalogued and the case study results were synthesized into a number of recommendations and lessons learned. Lessons were developed in a number of areas, including: training, institutional and organizational issues, technology, funding and other financial considerations, planning and procurement, installation and implementation, and lastly, operational lessons learned.
Critical to the on-going success of ITS implementation is an effective operational strategy. Transit agencies seeking to achieve operational efficiency ought to maintain the support they need to keep their system(s) up and running. It is important to be aware of the ways operations can continually be improved upon. Below are lessons learned for how to effectively address operational issues involved once an ITS project has been implemented:
- Maintain support agreements with vendors and/or develop the necessary in-house expertise to deal with technical issues. The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), in Austin, TX, has an agreement with their vendor, but also has a part-time staff person devoted to technology support as his primary responsibility. Once their remaining Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) are installed, this person will begin providing technical support on a full-time basis. CARTS feels that this approach works better than relying solely on the software or hardware vendor because it enables problems to be resolved more quickly.
- Maintain on-going staff support for data maintenance functions on ITS deployments that include a GIS component. Agencies' service areas are continuously changing, requiring on-going changes to underlying GIS data. While agencies may be able to rely on vendors for some changes, they may have a need for in-house support to deal with on-going, minor changes. When CARTS deployed new scheduling and dispatch software they had difficulties with the addition of geographic data. While CARTS staff were able to piecemeal GIS data updates, significant changes had to be sent to the software provider for formatting. As the service area and the transit service provided by CARTS grew, this became an increasingly important issue, particularly since the AVL system would not be able to track vehicles that left the defined area.
- Install software on managers' computers. Agencies sometimes have a tendency to only install software for the people who will be using it on an everyday basis. However, by giving managers access to the technology, this enables them to better understand problems that their staff may be having with the system. In Ottumwa, Iowa the Transit Administrator eventually had the Automatic Vehicle Location/Mobile Data Terminal (AVL/MDT) software installed on her computer. She believes this has been beneficial since she now understands the problems that the dispatchers are having with the system.
- Think about strategies to save bandwidth, particularly if there are communications constraints. Since many rural agencies have issues with their communications capacity, it is advisable to look for methods to economize in this area. CARTS allows their dispatchers to initiate polls on the AVL system in order to cut down on the polling cycle, which saves bandwidth.
Taking different operational issues into consideration when deploying ITS allows transit agencies to achieve greater efficiency. One way this has been done is by maintaining support networks, both on-site and through vendors, which allow agencies to quickly resolve any problems that may arise. To employ an effective system it is important for managers to understand the problems that may occur. Installing software on manager’s computers allows them to get a better feel for the kinds of problems that are occurring and ways to mitigate them in the future. Transit agencies should continually be seeking ways to make their operations more effective and efficient; for example strategies to save bandwidth. Agency needs and ITS applications are consistently presenting themselves, making it important for transit agencies to share their success and/or failure stories with each other so that systems around the country will continue to progress.
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