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.
As always, there are issues with funding any transportation project, and ITS in particular, that require recommendations and advice. The transit agencies in this case study brought forward a number of different funding and financial considerations important to rural transit agencies undertaking ITS deployments. Additionally, agencies need to realize ahead of time that costs may escalate throughout project deployment as well as during everyday operations. These rising costs make it important for transit agencies to explore all possible sources of funding to ensure budget constraints do not delay the installation process.
Based on the experiences of the rural transit agencies lessons learned have been developed in locating, securing, and allocating funding for transit ITS deployments.
- Anticipate all costs when initiating an ITS project, including any unexpected expenses. ITS deployments contain numerous costs including those for initial start-up, capital, on-going maintenance and upgrades, and costs associated with staff time and effort.
- In Florida two rural transit providers, (Community Transportation Coordinators (CTC)) experienced significant unexpected costs during the initial installation of ITS applications, including expenses for additional software and overtime as staff tried to get accustomed with the system and get it up and running.
- Apply for funding from numerous sources. A number of different funding sources are available for deploying transit ITS in rural areas. The agencies in this study have typically used an assortment of Federal, State, and Local Funding.
- The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) in Austin, Texas secured funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for the installation of AVL/MDTs, scheduling and dispatch software and enhancements to the radio system.
- In Florida, the participating CTCs are all part of statewide project undertaken by the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD), an independent commission housed within the Florida Department of Transportation. The ITS project undertaken by these CTCs included two phases of installing new scheduling and dispatch software and AVL/MDT systems. The first phase was funded by an FTA demonstration grant. Phase two was funded with additional FTA money as well as a CTD match, which required a 10 percent match from each participating CTC.
- In New Mexico the Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) system received funding for the implementation of new scheduling and dispatch software and electronic fare card technology from the FTA, (through their ITS Joint Programs Office and the FTA 3037 program, the New Mexico Human Services Department (NMHSD), the New Mexico Department of Labor and from the Alliance for Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).
- The Ottumwa Transit Authority (OTA), the rural transit provider in Ottumwa, Iowa set out to install a new radio system, scheduling and dispatch software, AVL/MDTs, and electronic fare card technology. They received an FTA demonstration project grant for the project and got Iowa DOT to provide a portion of the non-federal match, with OTA providing the remaining match money.
- The Williamsport Bureau of Transportation (WBT) River Valley Transit, which provides transit service to the Williamsport, Pennsylvania area, set out to build a transit center and use AVL/MDTs to develop a Traveler Information System (TIS). A capital grant was awarded by the FTA to the WBT, with Penn. DOT, the City, and the County each providing a portion of the non-federal match. The grant also included contingency funds intended for the TIS project; therefore it would not need to compete with other ITS projects.
- Do not expend all funds on a project; hold some funds for unexpected costs. As noted in the example of the two CTCs in Florida, rural transit agencies should "expect the unexpected" when installing new ITS technologies. It is crucial for agencies to remain flexible and know that everything will not run smoothly. With that in mind transit agencies need the ability to add enhancements or fix problems when they arise. Keeping contingency funds for such occurrences allows agencies to cope with these situations.
Funding for ITS deployments is available to rural transit agencies from a multitude of federal, state, local and even private sources. Rural transit agencies searching for funding need to be aware of the combinations of federal, state and local funding available to them and the ways in which match money can be obtained. Once funding has been identified, it is important that agencies budget for the unexpected as well as the anticipated costs of a project. Reserving small amounts of the available funding in a contingency account should also be considered.
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