February 19, 2010
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APTA’s TCIP Standard Comes of Age
BY ROBERT G. AYERS, P.E.,President, Ayers Electronic Systems, LLC, Richmond, VA
A small group of transit visionaries originally conceived the Transit Communications Interface Profiles (TCIP) standard during the “Blizzard of ’96” in Washington, DC, at the 1996 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB). This group designed a standard that would allow transit components and business systems from different sources to exchange information seamlessly.
The road has been long from that seminal event to the standard we have today. Hundreds of transit professionals contributed to the standard development, first under the auspices of the National Transportation Communications for ITS Protocol organization, and later under APTA’s standard development process.
In addition to defining information transfers, TCIP contains a Model Architecture and a Concept of Operations that provide context for how the transfers might be used in a typical agency. A transit agency does not need to change its operational concepts or architecture to use this standard; it is designed for “a la carte” use, allowing each agency to select and tailor the information flows that best fit its needs while maintaining standard compliance.
Three pilot programs have been implemented to date, and a number of other pilot projects are in the planning or development stage.
ConSysTec’s Dynamic Timetable Generator project received funding from the TRB Transit Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (Transit IDEA) program. It demonstrated the ability to publish and update timetables on the worldwide web using TCIP.
LYNX, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Orlando, recently implemented a TCIP Traveler Information Pilot (TTIP) project that provides bus locations, advertising, and other information at the LYNX Central Station in downtown Orlando. The Transit IDEA program provided partial funding for TTIP, which demonstrates the use of TCIP to transfer schedules, bus work assignments, Automatic Vehicle Location information, passenger information, and real-time device availability information. This project also shows how to convert proprietary data streams to TCIP in real time, and to combine standardized and proprietary commercial data streams as data sources for computer applications.
Clever Devices implemented a short-term pilot demonstration of TCIP-based passenger information signs at APTA’s EXPO 2008 in San Diego. This project used real-time data from the Chicago Transit Authority and Clever’s Bus Time™ product to deliver bus estimated arrival times to a sign in the company’s booth.
APTA has funded development of a series of tools to simplify the process of specifying, implementing, and testing TCIP-based interfaces. The TCIP Implementation Requirements & Capabilities Editor (TIRCE) provides an easy-to-use interface that allows a transit agency, supplier, or consultant to create or modify an interface definition. These definitions can be output as requirements for use in a Request for Proposals (RFP), or as a set of product capabilities to be used in a supplier’s response to the RFP. TIRCE also provides a built-in viewer capability that allows the user to view the TCIP standard as a word document, or to use a graphical representation of the TCIP database.
APTA is also developing tools to verify implemented TCIP interfaces. The first of these tools, “Interrogator,” acts as the subscriber in a TCIP Publish-Subscribe dialogue, and tests or exercises the publisher side of the interface.
The National Standards Institute (NTI) has developed a two-day TCIP training course titled “Integrating Transit Applications: Defining Data Interfaces Using TCIP.” The course covers some basic principles of systems integration and the content and structure of TCIP while also providing some hands-on experience developing TCIP-based interface definitions using TIRCE. NTI has offered the course in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Tampa, and Houston to date, with participants attending from transit agencies around the country.
APTA TCIP Web Site
APTA recently replaced the old TCIP web site with a new site. The new site does not require registration. Visitors to the site can download the standard and the tools at no charge, submit comments, and obtain more detailed information on TCIP and its history.