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.
There are several challenges to implementing smart card technology in a rural setting. Rural areas typically lack the resources necessary to deploy an ITS system such as smart card technology. Deploying the ICTransit Card system in rural New Mexico was no exception. The overarching issue with most of the rural transit systems in New Mexico is the capacity of the staff, drivers, and administrators to absorb new systems and institutionalize them within their daily work routines. The New Mexico Department of Transportation anticipated the challenges, overcame the issues and achieved a successful deployment of the ICTransit Card system.
Some of the capacity issues that the New Mexico Department of Transportation experienced during the deployment of the ICTransit Card System are identified below.
- Recognize that support resources will be limited in rural areas. Rural areas typically have limited local resources and dollars so staffing needs for transit providers are difficult to fulfill and funding is at a minimum. Agency staff will be relying heavily on contractor staff to provide most if not all of the technical support during system implementation. Geographic distances will add to the challenge of scheduling and resolving technical issues and may add to the cost.
- Understand that transit personnel will have limited computer skills. The software developer ATR Institute was able to provide the necessary training and produced simplified user friendly manuals. Training takes time and will be ongoing.
- Develop a training plan. Even when the staff and drivers are enthusiastic about the new equipment, their daily routines will take precedence over learning new operations. Drivers will have a tendency to revert back to the manual systems. Developing the training capacity of the drivers may be difficult. A systematic training plan is necessary to overcome this difficulty.
- Anticipate slower internet connections. Many rural areas do not have access to DSL or broadband communications, therefore the system has to communicate using dial up service. In the case of the ICTransit system, the data accountability and the synchronization process are not hindered by the connection time; however the slower connections had some impact on the input features of data input under the CRRAFT (Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking) system.
- Expect to fund hardware and communications upgrades to implement smart card technology. Transit providers in small towns and villages lack the computer resources because budgets are usually already very lean.
- Obtain operations support during implementation. Limited resources of a rural agency may require the contractor to provide operations support in addition to the technical deployment support. For the ICTransit project the contractor staffed a Help Desk that proved to be invaluable. Agency staff could work out issues on a one-on-one basis and were oftentimes able to resolve issues the same day. In other instances, a trainer would do a "ride-along" with a transit driver to detect a problem the system might be having.
Deploying smart card technology in a rural environment in New Mexico has had challenges to overcome. This lesson suggests that these challenges can be resolved if anticipated and planned for accordingly. For the ICTransit System these challenges were addressed with only minimal delay to the schedule and the system was implemented successfully. Having enthusiastic transit providers throughout the area that were willing to work with and support the contractors contributed to this success.
The ICTransit Card system goals provided a positive contribution to achieving several ITS goals including improving safety and mobility and providing a productive and efficient transportation system. 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 ICTransit smart card system.
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