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.
Establishing a well-specified plan before embarking on any ITS project is key. As is typical with any well-managed project, it is important that during the initial planning process agencies define the projects' goals and objectives. This helps to ensure the end result will be concurrent with the agencies' vision. Thorough planning includes a number of steps to consider, as is outlined here:
- Follow the steps of a technology-driven planning process for ITS deployment: Base your deployment on a systematic planning process, insuring that the technology (s) selected meets a specific agency need. A systematic planning process for ITS projects should include the following steps:
- Issue/Problem Recognition
- Project Definition
- Needs Analysis
- Planning and Design
- Development/Procurement (includes Specifications Development)
- Installation and Testing
- Systems Maintenance/Upgrading and Evaluation
- Consider the use of outside expertise. The use of outside professional expertise for activities such as writing system specifications or providing systems integration support may be helpful for rural transit agencies planning ITS procurements. It is important for agencies to provide consultants with a clear scope of work that is consistent with their contractual arrangements with vendors and their expectations. This scope should include roles and responsibilities for both the consultant and key agency staff. Additionally, agencies using outside consultants need to make sure that key agency staff continue to be involved in the deployment.
- When planning their Transportation Information System (TIS), River Valley Transit in Williamsport, PA hired the architectural/engineering general contractor to develop the functional specifications as a way to solve their bus staging/space constraints.
- The Florida Center for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD) required the demand-response software vendor to provide an explanation of the needs for data “scrubbing” and conversion, minimum hardware specifications, and training plans for the various rural transit providers known as Community Transportation Coordinators (CTC)
- Address system expandability early in the process. It is important to keep expandability of the system in mind, as the needs of end-users will likely change over time. ITS systems should have the capability to handle changing needs.
- In New Mexico the Client Referral, Ridership, and Financial Tracking (CRRAFT) system has not incorporated GIS into the software package. However, recognizing that it may become a priority in the future the Alliance for Transportation Research Institute designed the software in a way that will accommodate the integration of GIS capabilities in the future.
- The Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) in Austin, Texas has future plans to implement a smart card system. CARTS would like to use that card as a smart card, tracking the customer's usage for the appropriate agency and using the information for billing purposes.
- If your agency lacks technological expertise, use proven technologies. Agencies that are not technologically sophisticated may want to concentrate their planning and procurement efforts on proven technology.
- CARTS felt that they needed a proven, successfully implemented technology and did not want to be a test site for new software. Therefore, they found an off-the-shelf product that met their needs and helped them "keep it simple."
- Conduct formal technical and organizational needs assessment prior to beginning your ITS deployment. The needs assessment helps to determine exactly what technology is needed and can help identify the technical and organizational barriers that might hinder the successful deployment of the ITS technology. Additionally, the needs assessment can simply help agencies learn more about their own operations.
- The Florida CTD conducted operational studies of each of the participating CTCs in order to identify their needs and changes that needed to be made prior to the ITS deployment. The results of the operational studies led to recommendations to upgrade computer hardware and software.
- Realize that the integration of various ITS elements is critical to getting the most out of the technologies. It is important to address ITS integration issues early on in the planning stage, especially if the deployment is designed to take place incrementally.
- Since each component of their system was installed separately, CARTS thought carefully about the integration of the different components prior to installation helping to avoid any integration problems later on
When deploying ITS technologies it is crucial, to ensure success, that a well-specified plan is in place. By clearly laying out goals and objective, agencies can evaluate the project both during and after deployment. The plan enables agency staff to measure success. By beginning the planning process early, transit agencies can make sure that they procure technologies that will not only satisfy their current needs but also be able to accommodate future additions. In any ITS deployment, proper planning can help ensure project goals are met within an acceptable timeframe and budget. There are well-defined steps each agency should follow in preparing their plan, and consistent adherence to the plan should result in a successful ITS deployment.