Small and rural transit agencies can benefit from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies; however, they frequently lack the resources to assess their technology needs and to fund the implementation of ITS. Another problem is that vendors often develop systems for larger agencies, and these more complicated systems are ill suited to meeting the needs of smaller, rural transit agencies.
The purpose of this research is to identify and examine available and emerging ITS technologies, their benefits, and their deployment potential to rural transit systems. This study includes a literature review of previous research, as well as interviews with five rural agencies that have implemented or are planning to implement ITS technologies. The five agencies are:
- The Kansas Department of Transportation (DOT),
- The Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska,
- Iowa DOT,
- California DOT, and
- Oregon DOT
Data on the agencies' needs and the planned or implemented technology was gathered. Further analysis reviewed each of the technologies to determine the benefits of the product, additional infrastructure required, and the costs. This research includes organizational information from the agencies and historical project evolution, so that other agencies in similar situations or looking to implement similar technologies can understand what may be involved. System integration with existing or planned statewide or regional systems is also addressed. The findings, presented as a set of lessons learned, are offered to assist other small and rural agencies considering ITS implementations.
Because of limited funding, rural transit agencies are not using new technology to the extent that their larger urban counterparts are; in fact, very few rural transit agencies have plans to incorporate intelligent transportation systems (ITS). Funding for new equipment is scarce, the equipment is often more expensive for a small agency (because small agencies cannot bargain for a discount based on volume), and the infrastructure required to install the equipment is more extensive. The rural agencies do not have the technical expertise to evaluate the technologies, and they do not have the purchasing power. Because small agencies do not have a great deal of electronic equipment, they usually do not employ a high-level technician who is familiar with new technologies (there is simply no need for the expert).
The five agencies interviewed for this Transportation Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) report provided insight on how partnerships can be an effective tool in achieving the deployment of ITS in rural areas. Lessons learned, along with specific examples, are described below.
- Consider partnering with neighboring agencies and non-traditional stakeholders. These non-traditional stakeholders, such as universities and law enforcement, can provide additional resources and insight into solutions that may not have been considered.
- To examine low-cost ITS potential in rural California, the California Department of Transportation (DOT), in conjunction with the California Polytechnic (Cal Poly) State University at San Luis Obispo and the City of San Luis Obispo Transit (SLO Transit), performed a study and field test called Efficient Deployment of Advanced Public Transportation Systems (EDAPTS). While EDAPTS was limited to the San Luis Obispo area, the results and findings were intended to benefit transit agencies of similar size and disposition throughout the state.
- The Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska has two partners in its implementation of ITS in rural transit.
- The first partner is the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department. The partnership with the Sheriff’s Department occurs because the Sheriff has in-depth knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning system (GPS). Because the Community Action Partnership has limited resources, subject matter experts are found in the local community wherever possible. The Sheriff’s Department provides the expertise for the system and receives benefits because it can control the bus dispatch. This feature is important when emergencies occur because the Sheriff’s Department can take control of the buses in times of natural disaster or for security reasons. Also, the Sheriff’s Department provided $71,000 of the $150,000 necessary for this implementation.
- The second partnership is with Metro Area Transit (MAT) in Omaha. During the procurement, the Community Action Partnership’s mobile data terminal (MDT) vendor went bankrupt, forcing the Community Action Partnership to look for other options. MAT was looking for partners for a statewide Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL)/MDT system. A joint procurement, along with technology sharing, was agreed upon, though these projects have yet to come to fruition.
- Leverage state assistance in the procurement and funding of ITS technologies for rural transit. All of the rural systems discussed in the TCRP report are being assisted at the state DOT level. In each case, the state is funding a program to bring ITS to the rural agencies. In one case, the state even set up the procurement for the small agencies to buy into if they want. The benefits of an alliance between state DOTs and the rural agencies include:
- The price of equipment will drop and will become more affordable to rural agencies. If a state DOT becomes involved with the procurement and offers that procurement to all the rural agencies in the state, the procurement grows to a size that will then interest vendors.
- If the state DOT evaluates the offerings of ITS solutions, that information can be communicated to smaller agencies, eliminating the need for each agency to perform its own investigation.
One drawback to the state DOT being responsible for procurement of ITS technologies is that rural agencies lose much of their ability to customize the procurement for their own particular needs. The agencies have choices available to them only through the DOT. State concerns replace rural concerns when the needs are assessed. As long as the state DOT and the rural agencies work together, this issue will not hinder the procurement of ITS.
Developing partnerships with state and neighboring agencies assists rural transit providers in procuring and successfully implementing ITS technologies. State agencies and DOTs have the financial resources and subject matter experts that may not be available to rural and non-urban transit agencies, so it is best to consolidate efforts to eliminate redundancy and reduce funding expenditures. Partnering with neighboring agencies and non-traditional stakeholders allows rural transit agencies to expand their knowledge base and develop unique approaches to solving complex issues related to transit ITS implementation at the rural level.
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