In early 2000 the ATR Institute (ATRI) and the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) working with the New Mexico Human Services Department (NMHSD) and the New Mexico Department of Labor provided the State Legislature, Welfare-to-Work Interim Committee with an overview of their preliminary concepts of utilizing smart card technology for rural transit providers for boarding and accounting for human service transit passengers. The CRRAFT (Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking) and the ICTransit Card (Intelligent Coordinated Transit Card) systems were developed for use in rural New Mexico transit agencies that were subgrantees for the NMDOT. Both systems were conceptualized to fully capitalize on the federal and state mandates for moving toward coordinated human service transportation between agencies and to achieve more efficient services with shared funding resources.
The project is meant to address issues associated with coordinating human services transportation and improving public transit in rural areas. With the use of advanced transportation systems applications, problems of integration between public transit systems and agency transportation funders can be approached on a systemic basis.
Both the CRRAFT software and the ICTransit Card were designed to comply with the National ITS and the New Mexico Information Technology (IT) architecture efforts.
Federal and state mandates require agencies to coordinate human service transportation efforts to share funding resources and provide more efficient systems. In New Mexico, the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) teamed with other state partners to install an electronic transit card system, ICTransit, that services all transit agencies in the state. The state's CRRAFT system was already operational and was benefiting transit providers and agency funders. Building on the success of the CRRAFT system, the NMDOT and the New Mexico Human Services Department (NMHSD) developed a plan to implement smart card technologies. New Mexico was among the first states in the nation to implement and deploy smart card technology in a rural setting.
The following lessons provided by the NMDOT contributed to the successful implementation of their ICTransit system.
- Interview agencies to determine the routine of the drivers and the transit systems. These interviews can be instrumental in finalizing the basic functionality of the system.
- Develop an installation schedule. In order to get the vehicle equipment installed efficiently, plan for an installation schedule at all sites whereby the vehicle equipment for each transit system would be done on weekends or when vehicles would most be available.
- Engage transit drivers and staff throughout project deployment and testing. The software development team rode with drivers to find bugs and errors in the programming and to understand driver behavior. In one instance the field drivers would turn off their Pocket PC's before the end of their shifts causing program malfunctions and no amount of training was going to influence this behavior, so the development staff modified the software to accommodate the drivers. Other modifications resulting from driver and staff feedback included simplifying some driver interface features; adding new features not previously considered and the development of a user friendly manual that included pictures and visual directions to keep the user manual short and to the point.
- Schedule programming delays in the implementation schedule. The beta test performed found a programming problem that required rewriting some programs, delaying system implementation and training. This delay was not significant, but it was a delay that needed to be accounted for in the schedule.
- Be flexible when scheduling driver and staff training. Develop a training plan that accommodates changes in driver schedules and computer/equipment malfunctions.
- Train and retrain drivers. Drivers would appear to lose interest in the system and become lax in applications to the driver interface Pocket PC.
- Perform a beta test before deploying full system. Using a beta site improves on the system functionality in a limited environment and keeps implementation costs under control. The beta test site provided software developers the opportunity to analyze how the system was working from an administrative standpoint, the driver usage, and the data collection and report facilitation on a small scale before implementing the full scale system. They could also learn from the staff and drivers how best to train the other transit operators' staff.
- Use an experienced enthusiastic agency to beta test your system. The Village of Los Lunas Public Transportation System was chosen as the beta test site because they were diverse in their clientele, they were reasonably close to the software development team (ATR Institute) and the Albuquerque area, they were experienced users of the CRRAFT system and they were enthusiastic about deploying a smart card system. The ATR Institute could experience first hand how the system would function on a daily basis and how to improve the system based on the knowledge and experience of the testing agency.
The approach NMDOT used for implementing the ICTransit Card System by receiving driver and staff input and providing a beta test before deploying the full system kept deployment costs and schedule under control. The NMDOT and the NMHSD have enhanced the performance of the rural transit agencies of New Mexico and are providing more efficient service across agency jurisdictions by implementing the smart card technology.
The goals of the ICTransit Card system set by the agencies included implementing a cost effective electronic fare payment system that assists state agencies, coordinates transportation funding and facilitates data collection processes by transit systems. These goals provide a positive contribution to achieving several ITS goals including improving safety and mobility and providing a productive and efficient transportation system.