How can small transit organizations reap the benefits of an integrated intelligent transportation system (ITS) typically enjoyed only by larger fleets? The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) recently discovered the answer.
Aware of the many benefits of ITS — customer service improvements, cost reductions, and safety and security increases — the Iowa DOT took a diverse group of rural transit agencies, many of which were still using paper processes for scheduling, and infused them with a common purpose. Leaders within these operations understood that a group effort would give them the political momentum, market weight and technical analysis expertise needed to make their ITS vision a reality.
Driven to action
Unable to manage an ITS acquisition on their own, 14 of Iowa’s 16 regional transit agencies pioneered a new procurement approach and formed the Iowa Rural Transit ITS Consortium (IRTIC). As the only statewide ITS purchase and deployment consortium in the U.S., the IRTIC is the ideal vehicle for small operators to realize change.
“Constrained by their budgets, transit agency leaders formed the IRTIC to give them clout in securing more and better services for their customers,” says Bob Krause, planning and coordination manager at the Iowa DOT. “To start, they compiled a ‘shopping list’ of requirements a tough job given the diverse nature of the fleets and their respective services. Topping the list was the need for a flexible solution from one vendor.”
The ITS solution
According to Krause, the IRTIC eventually relaxed its single vendor preference and selected products supplied by Mentor Engineering and RouteMatch Software. Krause says they were chosen for their notoriety Mentor for its hardware; Route Match for its software.
Joy Uniat, Mentor’s regional sales representative, shares Krause’s enthusiasm for this project. “The IRTIC is as serious about putting in a system that incorporates economies of scale, extended technology lifecycles,
cross-organizational functionality and system-wide integration as they are about the organizational efficiencies realized by the system,” she says.
The IRTIC will install Mentor’s mobile computing devices in each of its approximately 600 member vehicles. These wireless devices enable communication between driver and dispatch, allowing vehicles to be tracked in real time. They also automatically collect data for report generation and provide drivers with in-vehicle navigation prompts. The IRTIC will also use Mentor’s XGate middleware, a sophisticated network interface product, to package and send messages between dispatch and drivers.
On the software end, Route-Match is installing software designed specifically for the transportation industry to facilitate trip scheduling, routing optimization, dispatching, reporting and billing. With RouteMatch scheduling software and AVL/GPS capability, transit agencies can improve scheduling and reduce route miles, enhancing arrival and departure accuracy.
Krause says the technology could potentially reduce the number of vehicles required. Another advantage is the ability to generate reports based on statistics such as the number of passengers on a route. These reports can be used to acquire funding from government agencies.
Moving into the future
The RouteMatch software is being implemented at transit agency sites, and Mentor is testing the usability of existing equipment. It is anticipated that in-vehicle equipment implementation will begin this summer, but expansion plans do not stop there. Once the XGate middleware and chosen wireless network is in place, Iowa DOT hopes to share these resources with public services such as EMS, police and fire units.
With this ITS solution, Iowa DOT and IRTIC are moving in the direction of improved service for transit fleets, regardless of size displaying the power a small group can wield when they come together to change things for the better.