by Guest Blogger Carrie Anderson-Watters
What is an intelligent transportation system (ITS)? An ITS applies a variety of technologies to monitor, evaluate, and manage transportation systems to enhance efficiency and safety and to improve convenience and reliability while providing a public interface for passengers to access route and schedule information in a variety of formats.
As public transportation becomes more popular with “millenials” (those born in the ‘80s and ‘90s), demand for convenient and reliable transit service increases. Millenials understand the many economic and environmental benefits of public transportation and are choosing to live in more urban settings that offer multiple transportation options. Public transportation allows people to socialize digitally or work as they travel, but many are also motivated by its relatively low cost (as many are saddled with student loan debt as they enter the workforce), the desire for exercise (all transit passengers are pedestrians for at least some portion of their trip), environmental concerns (reducing their carbon footprint), and many find it just more convenient than driving/parking. When asked what they want out of public transportation over the next ten years, millenials (61%) want more reliable public transportation, (55%) real-time updates, (55%) Wi-fi or 3G/4G wherever they go, and (44%) a more “user-friendly” travel experience.
Millenials depend on smart phones for information. About 80% of all young adults (ages 18-34), regardless of income level, are smart phone owners, and smart phone ownership among all U.S. adults increased 21% between May 2011 to May 2013 to 56% (90% of all U.S. adults own some kind of cell phone). The highest overall growth in smart phone use occurred in the lowest income bracket: 12% growth among people from households earning $30,000 per year or less. People with low-incomes are far more likely to do their web searches on a smart phone than on a desktop computer, which is far more expensive. If these trends continue, within a few years, the vast majority of U.S. adults will own and use smart phones.
Public transit systems all over the world are investing in ITS technology to improve their operations and provide real-time information to customers in a variety of formats accessible by smart phones. As of 2010, about 54% of fixed-route public transportation buses in the U.S. were utilizing technology to track bus locations. Locally, the majority of transit systems in Maryland and in the Washington Metropolitan region have invested in some type of intelligent transportation system (ITS).
Basic ITS systems are structured to allow additional ITS components to be easily integrated to expand functionality. The primary components of a basic ITS are computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and automatic vehicle locators (AVL). CAD allows dispatchers to monitor vehicles in real-time, manage schedule and route adherence, and deal with service delays, disruptions and incidents as they occur. AVL uses GPS or Wi-Fi to record vehicle location data, which is transmitted from the vehicle to the dispatch office through a mobile data terminal (MDT) for processing, interpretation, and response. MDTs also include a covert alarm system that drivers can use to silently notify dispatch in the event of an emergency, rather than dependence on 2-way radio. All data collected and transmitted through MDTs to dispatch is stored long term and can easily be retrieved for use in route planning or for investigating incidents or customer issues that are not immediately reported. The ability to reference actual time/location data proves invaluable in such cases.
MDTs also record and store important mileage and time data required by local, state, and federal funding sources. Without MDTs, this data must be manually recorded by drivers and processed daily by office staff. Automation of this process improves the efficient collection and reporting of this important data.
A CAD/AVL system can dramatically improve the customer’s experience by improving on-time performance and reliability. Customers rate “reliability” as the single most important factor in determining whether or not to use public transportation. CAD/AVL systems are also capable of providing interactive mapping and real-time arrival/departure information by bus stop via web browser or smart phone, including personalized subscriber alerts via text message. Using this technology, passengers register to be notified via text message of the impending arrival (in real-time) of the bus(es) they plan to use that day, as well as the next two or three buses that serve the stop(s) they use. Customers even use their web browser to watch “the bus” as it makes its’ way along the route toward their stop. This would not only dramatically increase customer convenience, but it would also cut down significantly on customer service calls.
In addition to CAD/AVL, there are many other ITS components that can be included initially in an ITS or added to it in the future, including:
- automated passenger counters (APC),
- fare card readers,
- automated voice/visual announcements (AVA), which alert passengers to next bus arrivals, upcoming stops, transfer opportunities, and other important information at bus stops and on-board;
- transfer connection protection (TCP), which compares estimated arrival/departure times and assists drivers in timing their arrivals/departures via MDT, ensuring that passengers can transfer between buses or indicating when a transfer is not possible;
- engine and mechanical systems monitoring, which would automatically identify and alert drivers and dispatchers to a vehicle system malfunction;
- transit signal priority (TSP), which would allow transit vehicles priority at traffic signals;
- and scheduling software, which automates processes in constructing fixed-route schedules.
The benefits of an ITS are many. Intelligent transportation systems:
- provide “real-time” route/schedule information in multiple formats (web, text notifications, etc.) making it more accessible to customers;
- allow more options for fare payment;
- improve the customer experience by reducing wait time at bus stops, increasing convenience and improving reliability of service;
- attract new “choice” riders (those who choose public transit rather than depend upon it)
- increase ridership;
- improve schedule adherence and eliminate manual schedule adherence enforcement by dispatch;
- improve timed connections/transfers to other buses/shuttles;
- improve safety and security for passengers and operators by improving incident response time;
- automate ADA-required bus stop announcements;
- automate other important service-related on-board announcements;
- allow quick diagnosis and response to mechanical malfunctions and other service disruptions;
- reduce driver paperwork, including daily log sheet reporting, deviation forms, and most on-board surveys;
- significantly reduce data entry by office staff;
- allow monitoring of bus driver/route performance in real-time and using historical data;
- significantly reduce radio traffic by allowing drivers and dispatch to communicate electronically;
- reduce consumption of paper forms and brochures and reduce printing costs;
- reduce the number of customer service calls;
- automate the driver scheduling process, which is very complex and time-consuming;
- improve the route planning process by allowing more efficient analysis of ridership patterns, construction of more accurate timetables, and the ability to adjust services in response to forecasted demand. ITS also allows analysis of alternative route scenarios, to help find cost-effective solutions.
Intelligent transportation systems make transit systems more accessible and easier to use, as well as more efficient and reliable. ITS brings public transportation into the 21st century by meeting the needs of the next generation. As more and more people use transit, the benefits become more and more apparent: public transit is a safe, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, affordable transportation alternative that reduces traffic congestion, fosters more livable communities, and improves the quality of life for all. ITS is an investment in the future that can begin to reap rewards immediately.