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.
The process of procuring ITS technologies has proven to be one of the most complicated and problematic of deployment phases for many agencies. Perhaps most critical is the selection of a proper vendor, someone able to provide services that adequately suit the needs of the agency. Use of outside professional expertise for activities such as developing systems specifications or providing systems integration support may be useful for rural transit agencies procuring ITS technologies. Experiences in the procurement of ITS technologies for rural transit offer lessons learned, often the hard way, in the attempt to a successful deployment.
- Consider performance-based contracts, including incentives and penalties, during the procurement process. One way of avoiding problems later in the ITS deployment is to develop performance-based contracts with vendors. An example might be building in project milestones, with payment to vendors dependent on reaching these milestones. In this sense vendors have an incentive to do a good job and meet the project schedule.
- The Ottumwa Transit Authority, (OTA) which provides bus service to Ottumwa, Iowa and the surrounding ten county area, had problems during the implementation stage of their ITS deployment, primarily stemming from difficulties with their contractors. The agency felt they should have written more performance-based contracts with their vendors in order to avoid the types of problems they encountered.
- If the deployment involves various operators/agencies, think about their individual needs. This may be particularly important when using a commercial off-the-shelf product for a number of different operators (as in a statewide implementation).
- In Florida the rural transit providers called Community Transportation Coordinators (CTC) had different needs and planned to use the demand response software, provided by the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD), to different degrees. Some CTCs had high percentages of standing order trips, while others did not. Therefore, the CTD had to ensure that the software it selected met all of the participants' needs.
- Check the vendor's experience with similar deployments. Make sure to check the vendor's track record to ensure they have the necessary skills to deal with the system and issues at hand. If a vendor does not understand the system, they may not be able to provide the support needed. Therefore, it is important to check vendors' references, particularly at agencies that have similar characteristics. Agencies may want to visit sites where the vendor has installed similar systems.
- Establish a good working relationship with vendors. Management needs to understand enough about the technology to ask the right questions. Outside assistance can be helpful in this regard, but agencies should then consider retaining the assistance through the entire planning, procurement, installation, and testing process.
- Use functional, or a hybrid of functional and technical, specifications, to obtain the appropriate systems within a given budget. Functional specifications can give the vendor a concept of what the agency wants, while at the same time the vendor is challenged to design a workable solution that may differ slightly from the agency’s requirements.
- By not giving narrowly defined system specifications in the request for proposals River Valley Transit in Williamsport, PA encouraged vendors to be creative. River Valley Transit staff were able to enter into a creative design session with the vendor that resulted in an appropriate solution.
The above lessons illustrate ways in which transit agencies can enhance the procurement of ITS technologies by selecting the right vendor. Checking into a vendors work history ought to be common practice to ensure the vendor will be able to meet the needs of the particular agency. When multiple parties are involved in a deployment, make sure that they are involved and that their needs are considered when procuring the technology. It is particularly important that a good client-vendor relationship is built where project goals are understood and effective communication is established. Defining the system in terms of its functional requirements can be a very effective way to insure that the final product is what the planners and designers envisioned when they selected the technology in the first place.
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