Reach out to a broad range of stakeholders and deploy early the projects that demonstrate easy-to-see benefits to build momentum for agency’s ITS program.
Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority's experience in deploying transit ITS
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United States

A Case Study on Applying the Systems Engineering Approach: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Chattanooga SmartBus Project


Chattanooga, Tennessee is a city of about 170,000 people (about 500,000 in the metropolitan area) located near the Tennessee-Georgia border. The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority's (CARTA) provides transit services for the City of Chattanooga and portions of nearby counties. CARTA serves this area by providing fixed-route bus service (16 routes), curb-to-curb transit for people with disabilities (Care-A-Van), a free electric shuttle in the downtown area, an incline railway up historic Lookout Mountain, several parking garages, and management for much of the on-street parking in the downtown area. It is a moderate-sized transit organization in a moderate-sized community. In 2003, CARTA undertook an ITS project, SmartBus, which entailed introduction of many interdependent technologies across the entire range of CARTA operations:

  • Various network technologies were deployed to provide connectivity across CARTA's fixed and mobile assets
  • Technologies were deployed to help automate and modernize many field operations, such as automatic passenger counters and new bus fare boxes
  • Technologies were deployed to help automate and modernize many back office operations, such as new dispatch and revenue management systems
  • A data warehouse was developed to consolidate data collected during CARTA operations, and reporting tools were created to take advantage of this data warehouse

The deployment was challenging and susceptible to risks of failure. Effectively managing the risks, CARTA successfully implemented the SmartBus technologies over a period of 6 years, from 2003 to 2009, with most of the deployment completed. In November 2009, the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO) of the United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) published an independent evaluation report documenting CARTA’s experiences in planning and implementing the SmartBus project. Presented below are lessons learned from CARTA’s experience that could be beneficial to other mid-size transit agencies’ planning for implementation of ITS program.

Lessons Learned

The Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority's (CARTA) SmartBus ITS program offers valuable guidance on stakeholder outreach for implementing ITS at a mid-size transit agency. CARTA recognized the importance of stakeholder involvement early in its ITS program. Accordingly, a key element in its ITS deployment was the development of a project-specific deployment plan, with the last chapter of each being devoted to outreach. Lessons learned from CARTA’s stakeholder outreach are narrated below:

  • Identify key stakeholders and classify them in interest groups. CARTA’s outreach plan for each project involved consulting with three stakeholder groups and receiving input on their interest areas:
    • The Council of Managers. The Enterprise Center and its Council of Managers are responsible for the Chattanooga Regional ITS Architecture. CARTA regularly participated in meetings with the Enterprise Center to coordinate CARTA ITS plans with the regional plan.
    • CARTA Staff. For each ITS Deployment, CARTA formed a team with representation from all departments that was involved with operating and maintaining the system once deployed. This team helped provided information about current processes and procedures, defined requirements for the deployment, and helped identify how current processes and procedures would be modified after the deployment.
    • The General Public. While CARTA did not typically directly involve members of the general public in its development process, the agency did recognize the need in its deployment plans to publicize the changes to passengers and to educate passengers on how to use new services and features provided by the ITS technologies.
  • Reach out to a broad range of employees, including those skeptical of ITS. Reaching out to a broad range of employee-stakeholders, including those skeptical of ITS, can improve the final product and its level of acceptance. To receive feedback on plans for the deployment of onboard systems, CARTA formed ITS Oversight Committees, which included paid time for employees to participate in committee meetings. These committees included union representatives and many drivers, as well as several employees who had preconceived negative opinions regarding these particular technologies. These committees provided useful recommendations regarding the ITS rollout, and this approach also resulted in better buy-in for the ITS deployments among those employees.
  • Be sensitive to technology upgrade readiness of the agency’s various divisions of transit service operations. CARTA was sensitive to stakeholder needs when it changed the timing for introducing the flex-route operations management software. CARTA originally planned to begin using the software to support these services in 2006, in conjunction with the rollout of new operations management software for fixed-route and paratransit operations. However, feedback from flex-route dispatchers indicated that the planned system could not efficiently support dispatch services until an overall CAD/AVL (computer aided dispatch / automatic vehicle location) system was available to provide real-time bus location information. In response to these concerns, CARTA delayed this deployment and made plans to include acquisition of alternative flex-route operations management software incorporating additional software features to better satisfy user needs.
  • Search for easy-to-implement projects, which will produce easy-to-see benefits and create momentum for ITS deployment. An important facet of managing stakeholders’ expectation is the sequencing of projects so that successful demonstrations and observable benefits occur regularly. These demonstrations can help maintain program momentum in two ways. First, they build enthusiasm for ITS by regularly providing benefits to stakeholders - stakeholders that are benefiting from ITS are more likely to continue to support it. Second, they help build confidence that ITS will be deployed successfully and, once deployed, will generate benefits. With this in mind, CARTA chose to deploy first those ITS projects which could be completed in a relatively short time and would generate easy-to-see benefits:
    • The data warehouse project was completed in 2004 and immediately simplified a number of internal reporting functions. This was a particularly important step because the data warehouse benefited senior CARTA management by providing them with improved visibility into CARTA operations.
    • The "tricoder" system for recording vehicle fuel, oil, and other liquid usage, deployed in 2005, saved time by simplifying a manual process. This system was relatively easy to deploy because it required little integration with other systems and it saved CARTA staff the time each day that had been used to transcribe manual fuel usage data.
    • The CARTA EVDO (Evaluation-Data Optimized) network, deployed in 2007, was needed to support data communications between CARTA vehicles and CARTA Headquarters. While designing this network, CARTA noted that it could purchase EVDO modems for vehicles with a built-in router and Wi-Fi. This allowed the agency to provide wireless Internet service to passengers at essentially no cost over the cost of the required data communications network. And, the benefit to passengers – free Internet service – was easily observable.
  • Monitor the projects proactively to identify benefits. CARTA's ITS staff were aware of the need to demonstrate the benefits being achieved through the ITS technologies being deployed. The project-specific deployment plans included a section on monitoring and evaluation that described the types of benefits anticipated and how those benefits might be identified. And, CARTA ITS staff monitored the systems to identify benefits. For example, when the ITS program’s evaluation team discussed free Wi-Fi usage with CARTA, CARTA staff accessed monitoring screens that allowed them to identify the number of users presently accessing the Wi-Fi system.

CARTA gave high importance to stakeholder outreach and developed an outreach plan for each ITS project – a practice that allowed CARTA to receive feedback from customers and employees and facilitated their buy-in. CARTA had sequenced the deployment such that the ITS projects that were anticipated to offer early and visible benefits were implemented first, thus, generating stakeholders’ confidence in ITS. Overall, CARTA’s proactive pursuit of reaching out to stakeholders and demonstrating to them the ITS’s benefits served the agency well in its planning and deployment of ITS.

A Case Study on Applying the Systems Engineering Approach: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Chattanooga SmartBus Project

A Case Study on Applying the Systems Engineering Approach: Best Practices and Lessons Learned from the Chattanooga SmartBus Project
Publication Sort Date
Haas, R.; E. Perry; J. Rephlo
U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration

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Goal Areas
System Engineering Elements

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