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.
Installation and implementation are critical phases of the deployment path of an ITS project. When dealing with new ITS technologies there are numerous problems that may arise, making it crucial for agencies to have a well-developed process for this phase of the project. This is the final part of the deployment process to ensure that all systems are functional and fully operable before a project goes live. It is the opportunity to test the system and should be approached thoughtfully and with patience.
- Do not rush the implementation. By trying to install and implement new technology too quickly, problems may be created that will be difficult to correct in the future.
- Staff at the Ottumwa Transit Authority (OTA) in Ottumwa, Iowa felt that their project would have benefited from having a clear testing protocol and beta testing early on in the process. In order to minimize installation costs, equipment was installed in vehicles all at once. Installation did not include any rigorous testing requirements. Revisions to the system have been made over time, but the de-bugging process negatively affects OTA operations since OTA has to bring all 51 of its vehicles into the facility for modifications.
- Begin the installation process incrementally. One issue associated with this approach is the ability to obtain funding in a timely manner for a system that has, by design, been implemented incrementally.
- The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) in Austin, Texas implemented components of its ITS deployment one at a time, which helped them address problems more easily than if they had been trying to integrate multiple components all at once.
- The rural transit provider in Marion County, Florida had only a few months to get their system up and running, and felt that they would have benefited from a more incremental approach to start-up. Because of the short timeframe for implementation, they did not have time to fully "scrub" the data before the system came on-line. Furthermore, they would like to have had more time to train staff on the new system.
- Include a pilot phase in the installation process, in which hardware is installed on only a portion of the fleet and fully tested before full installation is completed. Piloting allows the agency to work out any "bugs" in the system prior to installing hardware on all vehicles. This is particularly important since, once full installation occurs, all vehicles must be brought into the maintenance facility in order to repair problems with the in-vehicle equipment.
- In Williamsport, Pennsylvania Avail technologies, the contractor responsible for Williamsport’s Traveler Information System (TIS) set up a sample MDT in the drivers room at the bus terminal in order to familiarize operators with the system before implementation on the entire fleet.
- In Austin, TX, CARTS included a pilot phase in the implementation process of their MDT’s, where the live system was installed on only a portion of the fleet. The purpose of the pilot was to complete end-to-end testing of the Mobile Data System under real-life conditions so that any remaining system issues could be identified and addressed.
- Be flexible and patient. Seldom does everything go as smoothly as planned with ITS deployments, so agencies need to be flexible and patient, particularly when problems arise. Having a willingness to stray slightly from the planned deployment schedule can sometimes help the implementation move ahead more quickly and efficiently.
- The Alliance for Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), in New Mexico, initially envisioned that each transportation center would do their own data entry into their new Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) system. However, they quickly discovered that transportation staff did not have the necessary time to perform this function. Consequently, ATRI staff decided to do the initial data entry. ATRI's flexibility, in this case, helped the project get up and running more quickly than it otherwise would have.
- Have clear sign-off and acceptance procedures for new technology. Contracts with vendors should include an acceptance-testing phase as part of the implementation process for new technology. In this way, the agency is not left with a system that does not function properly once the vendor has left the picture.
- In Williamsport, PA the vendor selected by River Valley Transit provided an end-to-end solution, which included clear testing and acceptance procedures. This arrangement has resulted in a positive relationship between the agency and the vendor, and has been key to the project’s successful implementation.
- Establish a formal process to track problems during implementation (it can be used for on-going operations as well). River Valley Transit, in Williamsport, PA uses a formal process to document problems in writing, using Problem Identification Reports. These 4-page forms are used to quickly identify problems so that they can be resolved in a timely manner. Problem Identification Reports can be filed by any employee using the system, including maintenance and operations personnel, and include requests for the following information:
- Time and date of the problem occurrence;
- Equipment affected;
- Description of the problem;
- Other unusual system occurrences prior to experiencing the problem;
- Other functions being performed at the time; and
- Attempts to fix the problem.
A thorough installation and implementation process allows agencies to develop a system that works best for them and their customer base. By having a well laid out plan, and being methodical in executing that plan, agencies installing/implementing new ITS resources will be better able to ensure immediate and ongoing operational efficiency of their new system.
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