Passenger Transport - 02/11/2011
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NEWS HEADLINES

Biden, LaHood Lay Out Vision for High-Speed Rail; DOT Officials Also Spotlight Transit Projects

On Feb. 8 in Philadelphia, Vice President Joe Biden announced a comprehensive plan designed to help the nation reach President Obama's goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years, as outlined in his State of the Union address. The proposal will place high-speed rail on equal footing with other surface transportation programs and revitalize America's domestic rail manufacturing industry by dedicating $53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

The Vice President made the announcement with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood during a visit to Philadelphia's historic 30th Street Station, where passengers traveling from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Amtrak's Keystone Corridor connect to high-speed Acela service to Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. 

"As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation-one of which is infrastructure," said Biden.  "As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high-speed rail for more Americans."

As the first step in this comprehensive, six-year plan to achieve a national system, the President's budget for the coming fiscal year would invest $8 billion in expanding Americans' access to high-speed passenger rail service. 

"In America, we pride ourselves on dreaming big and building big," said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. "This historic investment in America's high-speed rail network keeps us on track toward economic opportunity and competitiveness in the 21st century.  It's an investment in tomorrow that will create manufacturing, construction, and operations jobs today. "

This long-term commitment, which builds on the $10.5 billion down payment the administration has already dedicated to this effort, is already paying economic dividends in places like Brunswick, ME, where construction workers are laying track that will provide the first rail service since the 1940s from Brunswick to Portland to Boston. 

Private funding is also being used in the Brunswick's station neighborhood, as investors have financed businesses and residential condos, a new movie theater, a new 60-room hotel, and a 21st century health clinic.  Similar high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects across the country will create jobs, connect large metropolitan communities and economies, ease congestion on roads and airports, and reduce reliance on oil.

The proposal announced today by Biden also streamlines DOT's rail programs, making it simpler for states, cities, and private companies to apply for grants and loans.  For the first time, all high-speed and intercity passenger rail programs will be consolidated into two new accounts:  a $4 billion account for network development, focused on building new infrastructure, stations, and equipment; and a $4 billion account for system preservation and renewal, which will maintain state of good repair on Amtrak and other publicly-owned assets, bring stations into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and provide temporary operating support to crucial state corridors while the full system is being built and developed.

Porcari, Rogoff Tour New CAT Facility
DOT officials are visiting several transit systems this week to reinforce the message that partnerships among the federal government, states, communities, and private businesses that provide investment in public transportation are creating jobs today.

Also on Feb. 8, as Biden and LaHood were in Philadelphia, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari and Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff were in Raleigh, NC, to tour the new Capital Area Transit operations and bus maintenance center.  Raleigh is one of the first stops on the administration's "Build Week," a week-long tour by administration officials to showcase projects that are already helping the economy by spurring private sector investment and creating jobs in the communities where they are being built.

This NC facility expands CAT's bus maintenance capacity from 50 up to a possible 200 buses, which will accommodate the region's growing public transit network. Construction of the Transit Operations Center began in October 2009; completion is scheduled for Spring 2011.

Part of the funding for the $23.3 million project is $11.6 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the federal stimulus package. A combination of city, state, and federal funds is being used for the remainder of the cost.

"Our up-front investment in projects like this one helps to put skilled construction workers on the payroll today and promote energy efficiency and accommodate transit expansion for years to come," said Rogoff.

Porcari said: "We're proving there's no conflict between economic growth and sustainability."

The new center incorporates a number of green features, including geothermal heating and cooling, cisterns for collecting water, radiant floor heating in some areas to help maintain optimum thermal conditions, and a design that promotes natural light for work spaces. It also uses recycled and rapidly renewed materials.

The CAT facility, LaHood said in his blog, is only one of numerous federally funded projects demonstrating that America "can out-build our competition, sparking private investment and creating jobs. This Administration is committed to continuing to repair our existing infrastructure while also building new ways to move people and goods. That's how we strengthen our communities and our economy."

Other scheduled "Build Week" events included Rogoff touring one of the busiest Red Line transit stations in Cleveland, OH, on Feb. 9, where workers are building a new, higher-capacity station to replace the original Puritas Station, which was built in 1966. This construction was made possible by $400 million of the $8 billion in ARRA high-speed rail funding to provide 250 miles of new track along the "3C Corridor" between Cleveland and Cincinnati. 

Today, Rogoff is scheduled to tour the Intermodal Transit Terminal in Fort Pierce, FL, which is now under construction. When built, it will interconnect Orlando International Airport with high-speed rail, light rail, and commuter rail.

 

 

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood deliver remarks on building a 21st century infrastructure at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, PA, Feb. 8, 2011.   

The new city transportation facility is projected to meet LEED Platinum environmental and health performance standards. 

 

 

 

Survey: Grim Outlook, Layoffs Possible

Public transportation-related businesses are predicting layoffs and investment overseas if a long-term surface transportation authorization bill is not enacted soon.

In a survey released Feb. 1 by APTA, 80 percent of private sector businesses surveyed indicated that the level of federal investment in public transportation has a significant influence on their revenue; and that demand would increase with the passage of new authorization legislation.  Conversely, however, the survey also showed a grim outlook for the industry if a bill is further delayed, with 84 percent of respondents predicting revenue losses.

“This reduction in revenue will have a devastating effect on these private sector businesses’ ability to create, support, and maintain jobs in the communities they serve,” said APTA President William Millar.  He noted that approximately 76 percent of public funding for public transit is spent in the private sector.

In addition, 50 percent of respondents said they will have to lay off employees and 49 percent predicted hiring freezes if Congress does not enact a well-funded, long-term bill soon.  

More than one-third of respondents said they would focus on industries other than public transportation, thus there will be less competition and higher prices.

Over one in five responded they would have to shift businesses to other countries.

Patrick Scully, chief commercial officer, Daimler Buses North America; Jeffrey Wharton, president, IMPulse NC; And David Turney, CEO, DRI Corporation participated in a media call with Millar to call attention to this survey.

“As unemployment rates stay stubbornly high, public transportation is a smart investment that creates and supports jobs, while improving our communities,” said Millar.  “The delay in passing the bill has already created an environment of uncertainty, an environment that makes business decisions difficult.”

The surface transportation funding bill expired in September 2009 and has been renewed through six short-term extensions through March 4, 2011.

“Congressional action would provide much needed certainty to our industry to allow transit agencies the needed time horizon for long-term capital planning, which in turn should turn into vehicle procurements and thus would help our business know how much we can invest in human capital and other resources,” said Scully.  He added that he has seen a 50 percent reduction in the number of new procurements. “In this uncertain market, the time to act is now,” he urged. “Short-term band-aids do not provide long-term stability.” 

He noted that his company, and other bus manufacturers, enjoyed stable growth between 2005 and 2009, under the last reauthorization. But without a new bill, he said he could see as much as a 25 percent contraction in the industry from 2009 through the end of 2011.

Wharton, whose company manufactures overhead electrification contact systems for light rail and trolley systems, agreed that investments in public transit will help put Americans back to work.  “With increased federal investment, we hope to increase our payroll, while also expanding jobs for our sub-suppliers,” he said.

Wharton did note that it is difficult for a business focused on growth to prosper currently in the United States.  “We’re looking for a return on investment, and in order to do that we look for growth potential. Without long-term planning and funding, it’s very difficult for us to invest and develop new technologies and grow our business.”  He said he is being forced to look outside the U.S. for opportunities, commenting in particular on China’s extensive transit infrastructure program.  “My business relies predominantly on infrastructure, building new rail systems to provide public transportation.  And I made a trip to China just last December to begin looking at moving my business or setting up a new segment where I can truly invest and grow the business.”

Turney echoed Wharton’s comments, saying: “The uncertainty and continued delay in authorization is having a serious negative impact on all businesses, including DRI. We can’t afford to delay any longer. We are increasingly turning to international markets instead of the United States because of the delay in authorization.  We urge Congress to follow President Obama’s lead and commit to long-term funding for public transportation in America.”

Turney said just like IMPulseNC, DRI, which makes digital communications technology used in public transit systems, is focusing outside of the U.S. now for its growth.  “Growth opportunity on the international stage far and overwhelmingly exceeds what is available in the U.S. And, based on everything we see in terms of the much larger investments being made in places like Brazil, India, as well as China, we expect the international market to produce far more attractive growth opportunities, when we are just barely marking time within the U.S.”

Turney said it was "tragic and ironic" that the government was not making the long-term investment in transportation when there were clear employment benefits “just when people need to get to jobs and look for jobs.”

More than 700 of APTA’s private-sector businesses were surveyed for the report.  The full survey can be found on www.apta.com.

FTA Releases $3 Billion in Formula Funding for Transit

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the FTA released an apportionment notice announcing the availability of $3 billion in formula funding. The funding had been previously appropriated by Congress for Fiscal Year 2011 through a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions. 

Congress has only approved funding for a portion of the current fiscal year, through March 4, so only approximately 5/12 of funds for the fiscal year are made available. FTA will put out a subsequent apportionment notice for the remainder of the funds once Congress approves the appropriations for the rest of the year.
  
This money will go to states, local communities, and transit agencies nationwide to modernize and rebuild their transportation systems. These funds are essential for building new infrastructure, investing in more transit options, making repairs to existing bus and rail lines, and ensuring that transit serving rural areas receives critical operating funds. 

Some of the formula breakdowns include $39.5 million for Metropolitan Transportation Planning Programs (Section 5303), $1.75 billion for Urbanized Area Formula Programs (Section 5307), $185.7 million for Nonurbanized Area Formula Programs (section 5311), and $3.350 billion for Rural Transit Assistance programs (Section 5311(b)(3)).

Ramsey County Union Depot Breaks Ground

Saint Paul, MN took a major step “back to the future” Jan. 18 as demolition activities began that would lead to the restoration of the city’s venerable 1920s Union Depot train station. The project seeks to return the once-prominent facility to its original purpose as the region’s transportation hub—as well as a new destination for retail, art, music, food and drink—and brings the even greater promise of welcomed economic stimulus to the region by creating 3,000 jobs for all companies involved in the project.

“The people of Saint Paul, the State of Minnesota, and the entire Midwest are the beneficiaries of this strategic partnership of federal, state and county governments that will create new jobs for our community and build the foundation for future prosperity and growth of the region,” said Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority Chair Jim McDonough.

Under the direction of the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, the 33-acre Depot site will be transformed into a state-of-the-art multi-modal Midwest regional transit hub, bringing together rail, bus, motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. In addition, the destination will become a magnet for shopping and entertainment. “The Union Depot is a major investment and a long-term commitment,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), “but in today’s economy, an investment of this scale is not a luxury—it’s a necessity.”

Over the two-year construction, on-site trades jobs are estimated to be 1,200, totaling 750,000 work hours. Peak on-site workforce will be 300, and more than 95 percent of the on-site jobs are expected to be local tradespeople. The project is being led by Minnesota-based Mortenson Construction—a national leader in the advancement of sustainable design and construction, having built more than 120 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified or green projects nationwide.

When completed in 2012, the Union Depot will become the new home of Amtrak’s Empire Builder service, as well as the terminus/transfer point for Central Corridor light rail and Metro Transit. It will also serve Jefferson Lines, Greyhound intercity and regional bus lines, bicyclists, and pedestrians.   

In addition, the Union Depot is set to be the hub for future regional transitways, including the corridors of Rush Line, Red Rock, Gateway, Robert Street, and Riverview. Plans also include serving future high-speed rail from Chicago.

“Today we are celebrating a transformation for Lowertown, the city of Saint Paul and the entire metropolitan area,” said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “From electric vehicles to high-speed rail, the Union Depot will be at the center of how we get to where we need to go. The combination of historic preservation and future multi-modal transportation will make the Union Depot a model for the rest of the country.”

The $243 million Union Depot project includes $35 million in funding from the federal Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery grant.  It has also been identified as being of national and regional significance in the federal transportation bill and has been awarded $50 million over the next five years.  Other funding will be provided by federal, state, and county sources.

 

 

FTA Deputy Administrator Therese W. McMillan attended the groudnbreaking cremony.
Photo: Sarah Penman

Demolition of the former United States Postal Service K dock marks the official beginning of the Union Depot's renovation.
Photo: Sarah Penman
 

 





 

Mayors: Invest in Public Transportation Now

Providing the keynote address at the Jan. 19 luncheon of the 79th Winter meeting of the U.S. Conference on Mayors, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) called himself “a strong advocate of mass transit.”  

Mica was introduced by the organization’s Co-Chair of the High-Speed Intercity Rail Task Force, Buddy Dyer, who said:  “I think he probably is the most knowledgeable person in the Congress on transportation issues.”  The Conference on Mayors’ President, Burnsville (MN) Mayor Elizabeth B. Kautz, in her remarks, said: “Reauthorization of the surface transportation law is a top priority for mayors.”

Mica asked the mayors for their help in passing a “six-year robust transportation bill for the nation.”  Since he spoke, he has begun a series of listening sessions across the country to hear what the public has to say. 

New Report Out

In its newly released report, The 2011 Metro Agenda for America, the U.S. Conference of Mayors lists sustainable transportation investments among its top priorities.

Specific proposals include the ¬creation of a federal mode-neutral Metropolitan Congestion Program in the surface transportation authorization bill that would provide a direct federal partnership with local and private investments for the benefit of metropolitan areas; increased federal funding for transit bus and rail systems and dedicated funds for high-speed intercity passenger rail; creation of a federal state of good repair program to maintain and rehabilitate transportation infrastructure; and an emphasis on planning that integrates transportation with housing, environmental, and economic development while reducing traffic and carbon dioxide emissions.

“Our nation’s surface transportation system is broken,” the report states. “Because the nation has failed to invest in transportation infrastructure in metropolitan areas, families spend too much time in traffic and businesses cannot efficiently move their products to market. Rebuilding transportation infrastructure is a priority for mayors. It will create jobs and will ensure that metropolitan economies emerge from the recession, and, in turn, the nation’s economy.”

The complete text of the document is available online.

Reese Named New CAT Executive Director


Veolia Transportation COO Ken Westbrook announced the appointment of Dr. Chadwick Reese as the new executive director for Chatham Area Transit Authority (CAT) in Savannah, GA. “Chad has a broad-based expertise in operations, planning, finance, grants, human resources, and transit development in multi-modal operating systems including bus, paratransit, and rail,” Westbrook said. “This made him the best candidate to manage transportation service in Savannah, and we’re excited that he has accepted.”

Prior to joining Veolia Transportation, Dr. Reese held positions as the interim transit director/operations manager for the Regional Transportation System in Gainesville, FL, and as mass transit chief operating officer for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority in Jacksonville, FL. Most recently, Dr. Reese served as Veolia’s general manager for Gwinnett County Transit.

Throughout his career, Dr. Reese has been recognized as an active community leader and has contributed extensively to public transportation education through presentations and publications in the areas of innovative approaches in public transportation, impact of urban sprawl on local resources, organizational learning, strategic leadership, and transit policy and funding reform.



MCTS Celebrates Its Super Pack


All Milwaukee County Transit System buses displayed "Go Pack Go" on Super Bowl Sunday on their electronic destination signs, complete with an animation of a football going through goal posts.

APTA NEWS

APTA’s Legislative Conference to Offer “Capitol Hill Summit”

The changed landscape of the 112th Congress means that it’s more important than ever for APTA members to highlight the importance of federal investment in public transportation to their elected officials. To that end, APTA will hold its first “Capitol Hill Summit” during the conference, which will focus on emphasizing lobbying and outreach objectives.

A kickoff event will be held Monday, March 14 at the JW Marriott to rally APTA members for their meetings with their representatives. Following the Tuesday, March 15 breakfast, APTA members will effectively bring public transportation to Capitol Hill. A showcase will be held in the Foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building that features exciting displays and also provides conference participants with a place to gather between appointments—and share information. That evening, APTA and the Amalgamated Transit Union will co-host a joint reception to close the conference.  

As in past years, the conference will feature numerous exciting speakers. Political pundit Charlie Cook will offer his insights about the new Congress on Sunday night; DOT Secretary Ray LaHood will be the featured speaker at Monday’s opening general session; and Administrators Peter M. Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration and Joseph Szabo of the Federal Railroad Administration will speak during the afternoon general session.

All APTA members coming to the conference should start making appointments with their Members of Congress now!

2011 Bus Safety & Security Excellence Awards: Send in Nominations Now

APTA is currently accepting nominations for the 2011 Safety & Security Excellence Awards—which recognize transportation systems for their commitment to improving safety through application of effective initiatives.  The deadline is March 31.

Award recipients will have demonstrated an exemplary achievement in development and implementation of educational, training, and supportive programs or projects that create and sustain a culture of safety within the workplace and result in extraordinary service.

Award Categories

Safety & Security Excellence Awards are presented in four categories. Three go to public transit systems based upon annual ridership measured in unlinked passenger trips. A fourth category is open to private providers, either transportation management or contracted service providers, regardless of size. The categories are:

•    Public transportation systems providing fewer than 4 million annual passenger trips
•    Public transportation systems providing more than 4 million and less than 20 million annual passenger trips
•    Public transportation systems providing more than 20 million annual passenger trips
•    Private companies providing contracted transportation management and services to public transportation systems

Click here for more information, or contact Bill Grizard.

Joint Conference March 16-18



The Joint Rail Conference 2011, a multidisciplinary North American railroad conference covering all aspects of rail transportation and engineering research, will be held March 16-18 at the Pueblo Convention Center in Pueblo, CO.  APTA is one of the seven co-sponsors.

This year’s theme, “Shared Corridors, Shared Interests,” will feature sessions that cover freight and passenger rail, encompassing commuter, regional, and intercity systems.  Topics include: Rail Equipment Engineering; Service Quality and Operations Research; Planning and Development; Signal and Train Control Engineering; Railroad Infrastructure Engineering; and Safety and Security. Click here for additional information.  

TCRP Soliciting Problem Statements

The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) is soliciting problem statements identifying research needs for its Fiscal Year 2012 Program. These submittals form the basis for selection of the annual TCRP research program. Problem statements can be developed with ease; directions for submitting a statement for consideration are simple to follow. Most statements are 1-3 pages in length. The deadline for submittal is June 15, 2011. Click here for more information.


FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY

Technological Innovation Driving the Industry

BY SARAH HOLLANDER, Special to Passenger Transport

Technological innovation in public transportation has focused of late on such varied areas as communication, energy efficiency, and safety. New technology is pushing public transit investment in everything from apps that radically improve customer service to buses that recharge wirelessly to a system that helps bus drivers navigate snowy highway shoulders.

Here’s a look at some of the latest projects and research, plus some areas where more work must be done.

Customer Information = Customer Service

As real-time vehicle location systems become more common, many public transit agencies are now focusing on innovations in customer information, said Kirk Talbott, chief information officer for Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin. “We’re looking to get that information out to customers faster and more comprehensively,” he said.
 
To that effect, Capital Metro plans to roll out quick response codes at a small number of bus stops this March.  Passengers will be able to take photos of bar codes on bus stop signs to receive arrival information on the next three buses.  If the pilot is well received, the agency plans to eventually add the codes at all stops.  The agency is also exploring ways to put this technology on board vehicles, where passengers can find travel help, from upcoming stops to transfer information.

“The economy has been kind of harsh in terms of innovation,” Talbott said.  “We’ve had to hunker down and spend our money on keeping existing systems working.”

Another customer-friendly innovation, introduced last year, aids the agency in operating its paratransit service more efficiently. A computer-aided dispatch automatic vehicle location program helps dispatchers reroute for last-minute pickup requests. It also calls passengers shortly before pickup to let them know their ride is on its way.

Improving customer service is at the forefront of New Jersey Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH). As mandated by federal law, it plans to replace all 350 of its rail cars and move from a mechanical signaling system to automatic train control by 2015. This new system, which will use radio frequency controls, will allow the agency to safely run trains more closely together, thus increasing the number of trips.  

PATH Director and General Manager Michael P. DePallo also has his eye on advances in smart card technology around the country, with agencies testing ways to provide customers with more payment options, from credit cards to key fobs and cell phones. “That’s a trend we’re going to see more and more of,” he said. Smart card technology can be especially useful in areas like metro New York where many commuters use a combination of agencies to travel. An integrated system could do away with the need for multiple cards and passes.

PATH introduced a limited-use disposable, paper smart card a couple of months ago. And, last year, the agency teamed with NJ Transit and NYC MTA on a pilot smart card project using bank cards. Passengers on select buses and trains tapped credit or debit cards against specially designed fare boxes and turnstiles. 

Energy Efficiency

This spring, Link Transit of Washington State plans to launch electric buses that recharge wirelessly and quickly during their routes.  Five 22-foot buses designed to look like trolleys have been equipped for the service, dubbed The Current. Drivers will pull into a station at the end of each loop, about every 15 minutes, to recharge. A 5-7 minute charge should bring the battery to 80 to 90 percent capacity, with an overnight charge completing the job.

Passengers will be able to get on and off the buses during the charging, and there will be no exposed wires or plugs. “You would not know, as an average passenger, that charging was even happening,” said Todd Daniel, maintenance manager with LinkTransit.

Foothill Transit in West Covina, CA and VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, TX are also experimenting with all-electric, fast-charge technology.

The buses, manufactured by EBus of Downey, Calif., will use lithium ion titanium oxide batteries, which generate less heat than traditional rechargeable batteries. As for benefits, the vehicles will produce zero carbon emissions and cost less to operate than diesel buses, Daniel said. Another plus?  They are very quiet.

Bus Driving on Dark Shoulders
Bus drivers with the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) have driven on shoulders to avoid congested freeway lanes for about 20 years. Some drivers, however, are hesitant to move onto shoulders that are dark and covered in snow. While staying on schedule is important, MVTA Transit General Manager Michael Abegg said, “their No. 1 job is safety.”

To make the shoulder more appealing, MVTA installed a Driver Assist System for rush-hour commuter trips between the suburbs and downtown Minneapolis. The system, developed by the University of Minnesota’s Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory, was first used in snow plows in Alaska. Ten MVTA express buses have been equipped with high-accuracy GPS equipment and laser sensors.

A half-silvered mirror screen in front of the driver shows lighted lane lines. Obstacles ahead, from disabled cars to displaced mufflers, appear as boxes on the screen. If a driver begins veering out of a lane, a boundary line on the screen turns from white to red. And the driver’s seat vibrates on the errant side like a virtual rumble strip. The system also tugs on the steering wheel to alert the driver.  This technology was introduced into service in November and is now being evaluated.

Communications

Systems around the country are installing real-time information at their stations. For example, Orlando’s LYNX installed real-time information screens at its central station in late 2009. This technology makes it easy for travelers to see and hear everything—from the current state of service to future changes in services as well as estimates on arrival, time, temperature, and even ads. High definition screens can feature picture on picture programming and news scrolls. And if there’s an emergency, real-time data can preempt programming for announcements. “Customers are more confident with transit service when they know what’s going on and feel they have more control of their time,” said Robert G. Ayers, of Ayers Electronic Systems in Richmond, VA, which supplied the system to LYNX.   
 
Customer expectations are driving internal and third-party development in real-time technology, said Paula Okunieff with Consensus Systems Technologies Corp. of Boston. Ideally, new developments will include interfaces that allow business systems to communicate out of the box and eliminate human intervention as much as possible, she said. “As soon as you move into real-time information, you can’t have someone cleaning up the information, because that is what drives the results of the technology,” she said. “If you put garbage data in, you get garbage data out.”

Encouraging Third-Party Innovation

A number of agencies, including NJ Transit, are making their service data public to encourage innovative applications by third-party developers. Last May, NJ Transit launched a Developer Resources section on its web site to provide developers with direct access in the hopes that they will use this information to create new trip-planning software applications. Nearly 400 have registered so far. Developers can download free schedule data in General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format. Tables available include stops, routes, trips, stop times, and calendars.  “We’ve seen a number of Android and iPhone apps come to market,” agency spokesman Dan Stessel said. TriMet in Portland, OR, and BART in San Francisco made a similar move several years ago. Since opening its schedule and arrival data to the public, independent programmers have created dozens of free and commercial transit tools for riders.

Pursuing Internal Technological Innovation

Stessel said that while his agency appreciates outside contributions, it’s not leaving all innovation to outsiders. “Pursuing technology is part of our overall plan,” he said.

For example:
•    Last October the agency launched its My Bus system. Bus passengers can text five-digit codes assigned to bus stops from their cell phones to receive schedule information. The service is now available in a few counties and should be running in all 21 counties by the end of the year.
•    The agency is also researching WiFi opportunities for rail stations and trains and hopes to choose one or more providers this year.
•    DepartureVision, an online tool for viewing real-time train departure screens, expanded to include all 165 rail stations last year. On a typical weekday, the system receives more than 35,000 queries, Stessel said.

What’s Next?

Cyber Security. As the amount of cyber information grows, so does the need to protect it from misuse, said Dave Teumim, president of Teumim Technical LLC of Allentown, PA. Teumim, who chairs the APTA working group developing security standards for rail transit control and communications systems, noted that the goal is to secure everything from signaling systems to electrical power that runs third rails and overhead lines to fire alarms and emergency ventilation systems for subway tunnels.

If left unprotected, these systems could be accessed by unauthorized people, Teumim said.  Potential disasters, he added, are not an exaggeration, and he cited how street cars were derailed in Poland after a 14-year-old boy hacked into a rail system.

While the U.S. government regulates cyber security in other industries, such as the oil and gas sector and the electrical power grid, it hasn’t yet gotten to public rail. While typically larger transit agencies have dedicated professionals working on cyber security, smaller agencies have lagged behind.

“But, in general, the whole industry needs to move in the same direction and get to the place where other industries are going,” he said.

Positive Train Control. 
An impending 2015 federally mandated deadline has rail companies and vendors working to develop positive train control (PTC) systems, but inherent in this effort are problems of cost and interoperability. The challenge lies in applying the technology—and ensuring its interoperability among multiple users on tracks, which includes both passenger and freight trains. Another challenge is to develop safe design specifications that don’t add so much weight as to significantly slow speeds.

Technology’s Role
“Technology can keep transit agencies moving forward when physical improvements are cost or space prohibitive,” said DePallo. “In a lot of respects, technology is the answer for some capacity issues,” he said.

“Despite tight budget times, our interest and investment in technology hasn’t suffered one bit,” Stressel said. “Technology is a relatively low-cost but high-impact way to improve the quality of our customers’ experience.”  If someone is running late and can see that their train will arrive in several minutes, that’s the difference between stopping for coffee, or not, Stessel said. While a cup of coffee might not seem like a big deal, he said, it does help keep public transit passengers happy.  And happy customers, he said, keep coming back.

 

FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff experiences the Driver Assist System in a demonstration developed for the 2010 ITS America annual meeting. 

 

 


Public Transit Operators … Driver Cell Phone Detection Has Arrived

BY LEONARD BUKHIN, Program Manager, Los Angeles Metro, Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles Metro is “putting the brakes on cell phone usage” for drivers operating public transportation vehicles. Federal and state requirements strictly prohibit using cell phones for calling and texting by operators of buses and trains. In an ever expanding effort to keep public transportation safe, LA Metro has teamed with Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS), Eastman Telebell International Inc (ETI), and Mobile Video Systems (MVS) to launch a unique system that reliably detects cell phone usage and provides instant video archiving upon detection.

The system is in the final stage of development and is currently being field-tested. The cell phone monitoring system detects if an operator is texting/calling within the driver seat area and instantly triggers a video recording of that zone. The integration that yields this solution involves three devices: a cell phone tracker device (CPT) developed by BVS called Wolf-Hound, and a CCTV Camera and SSD4 mobile video recorder developed by MVS which provided the basis for co-development between MVS and ETI.  

The patent pending cell detector utilizes an advanced algorithm that measures the radio frequency energy precisely within a given cell phone bandwidth. If the signal strength exceeds a predetermined threshold, a camera coupled to a DVR is triggered and time stamps the event.

Another noteworthy feature offered with the integrated solution is SSD4’s built-in Wi-Fi module, which provides a video file download feature that relays recorded files to a centrally located data collection server that can be configured to store any desired amount of data.
 
The central management software is designed to run on a data collection server and provides archiving as well as the easy retrieval of catalogued flagged video information. The archived video can then be viewed by the agency to determine if an actual offense has occurred.

The development of this system presents a unique set of engineering challenges that had to be translated into system-level criteria for functional performance and Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC). Detection and rejection are the two characteristics that determine the value of a cell phone monitor.  The need to enforce the “no cell phone use by operators in public transit” policy has brought reliable cell phone monitoring into focus recently. The challenges for cell phone monitoring of bus and train operators are outlined in the two principle characteristics given:

Detection. 
A radio receiver will detect a cell phone used by the driver at a distance of 1-3 feet. Multiple characteristics such as bands utilization schemes, an adjustable sensitivity, and types of modulation must be considered. 

Rejection.
The ability to discriminate the received signals is the most challenging task. Filtering out of band signals should be considered. The most difficult component of interference to deal with is the cell phones used by the drivers of surrounding vehicles, pedestrians, and especially, passengers in the same vehicle. There is no simple way to discriminate cell phone signals by the power level. The driver’s phone may be a thousand times weaker than another phone in close proximity—the signal strength depends on the phone technology, distance to the cell company radio antenna station, and other parameters. A partial solution to this problem can be provided by the design of the antenna system. Directional antennas, multiple strategically located antennas, and a smart processing algorithm— all should help. Some false detection will still occur. That is why the cell phone detector should be used not as a stand-alone device, but rather as one of the sensors in a video monitoring and recording system. Ultimately, analyzing the captured videos will filter out any false triggers.

Together, the integrated devices should provide state of the art cell phone usage detection with the latest technology in mobile video surveillance to archive such events. The objective of the solution is plain and simple—to promote safety and deter cell phone usage by vehicle operators in all imaginable public transportation applications.   


Prioritizing Safety: Overhauling Automated Train Control in Atlanta

BY DWIGHT A. FERRELL, Deputy General Manager/Chief Operations Officer Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Atlanta, GA

Throughout these difficult budgetary times, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has continued to prioritize its safety critical infrastructure projects toward cost-effectively investing in the most robust, sustainable, and technologically advanced systems available. In line with this focus, MARTA recently signed a contract with Alstom Signaling Inc., a global leader in transit technology and innovation, to completely overhaul its automated train control and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) computer systems. 

At the contract signing, MARTA’s General Manager and CEO Dr. Beverly A. Scott said: “This project is a demonstration of our commitment to move forward with the next generation of automated train control and safety systems.  It also positions MARTA to broaden its reach in terms of creating an integrated transit network that will have the capacity to serve the entire Atlanta region.”

Well prior to our rail system reaching its 30th anniversary, we recognized that it was imperative to plan for the complete replacement of these systems. While still in a state of good repair, they were becoming increasingly difficult to upgrade and maintain because of equipment and software obsolescence. The business processes were more manually intensive, time consuming, and prone to data-entry errors. Further, downtime resulting from equipment failure has increasingly had an impact on operations and service to our patrons. 

MARTA’s new system will create a single integrated platform to direct all train movements, control third rail power, improve monitoring and communications capabilities, and allow for more immediate response times. The overhaul will completely integrate scheduling, CCTV, asset management, incident management, and customer information systems. New bi-directional system-wide wireless mesh technology for train-wayside communications will provide rail car health status and car tracking function in real time. Micro-processor-based systems will offer redundancy through normal/standby units. Programmable Logic Controller units will provide real time remote monitoring capability through ethernet connectivity from anywhere on the system.  Of primary importance are the system’s safety and security features. Incident management capabilities will be significantly enhanced through the use of synchronized playback of audio, video, and data to assist in incident investigation and training of the controllers. In addition, these provide a means for MARTA to implement the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations regarding automatic train control system safety. 

For customers, the new train control and SCADA systems will improve on-time performance, provide real time information, and increase overall reliability. Behind the scenes, the rail team will benefit from an increase in operational capacity and reduction in maintenance costs and downtime.

MARTA is re-engineering its business processes and policies to allow personnel to take full advantage of the capabilities provided by the new technology. Given the expansive change in technology and business processes, MARTA is also making a significant investment in comprehensive performance-based training of its workforce.

Through this project, MARTA is leveraging the latest technology to significantly improve the rail system’s core functionality, enhance safety and security, and provide an overall better quality transit experience to its customers.

 

MARTA's new system will be an integrated Train Control and SCADA system, like the one pictured above.



 

New Heavy-Duty Buses Improve Ride, Save Fuel

BY JAMES P. BURKE Chief, Public Transit Division City and County of Honolulu Department of Transportation Honolulu, HI

The City and County of Honolulu Department of Transportation     Services, along with Oahu Transit Services, Inc., find themselves in a position to take advantage of the many benefits offered by today’s ongoing vehicle technology advancements. Escalating energy and maintenance costs and the call for greener business practices have prompted bus and component manufacturers to provide products that offer greater passenger comfort, improved fuel efficiency, and decreased exhaust emissions. The use of lighter materials in manufacturing, hybrid propulsion packaging, and the reduction of engine parasitic loads are all strategies being employed by the industry as a whole. Honolulu is excited to be in a position to take advantage of today’s heavy-duty transit bus technology advancements.  It’s looking forward to lower life cycle costs and improved vehicle performance.  Some of the many new technology-enhanced sub-systems being evaluated by Honolulu today are Engineered Machined Products, Inc.’s (EMP) electrified engine cooling, electrified air conditioning, LED lighting, and hybrid drive propulsion.

Over the last two years, the City and County of Honolulu have taken delivery of 54 new heavy-duty transit vehicles equipped with fully-electrified air conditioning systems.  The all electric air conditioning systems have greatly improved passenger ride comfort by reducing ambient interior noise, in some applications by as much as 8 dBA. They have also achieved a two percent average fuel savings by replacing the power consuming 6-cylinder refrigerant compressor with an auxiliary generator requiring one-third the driven horse power requirement.  Honolulu is convinced electrified air conditioning will become the standard for future bus procurements.

A very impressive development in engine cooling technology is the all new EMP Mini Hybrid Thermal Management system.  Honolulu ran a two and a half year study on two buses retrofitted with the new EMP system. Both units performed exceptionally well throughout the entire evaluation period with a minimum amount of maintenance.  Benefits include better fuel economy, lower maintenance costs, improved safety by the elimination of hydraulic leaks, and improved emissions. Their in-house chassis dynamometer test confirmed an amazing 21-horsepower increase at the rear wheels over the original hydraulically driven cooling system. So impressive were the results of the study that 90 additional Mini Hybrid EMP retrofit kits were ordered and are scheduled for installation.

Fifteen percent of Honolulu’s heavy duty transit vehicle fleet is equipped with a parallel hybrid propulsion system.  Vintage models run from 2004 to 2010.  An increase in fuel mileage and improved vehicle performance are two major benefits of hybrid packaging.  Fuel mileage increase has been noted in the high 30 percentile range over similar vehicles configured with straight diesel power and operating in a mix of CBD and arterial duty cycles.  Pull away from the curb acceleration is unmatched by any other sub-fleet and exterior noise has been significantly reduced.

Honolulu was recently awarded an FTA Transit Investment for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction grant to test and evaluate eight battery-dominant turbine-powered buses. It is anticipated that a battery-dominant system, whether powered by a small engine or a turbine auxiliary power unit , will yield a lower life cycle cost.  The battery-dominant design fully decouples the traction motor from the power plant.  It also eliminates the transmission, a significant maintenance item on a transit bus.  Major series-hybrid components such as the energy storage system and drive unit are less costly to replace as well.  Another benefit is the system’s reduced overall weight.  And, if the power plant is a turbine it is inherently fuel flexible and could utilize several fuel alternatives including diesel, bio-fuels, or kerosene. 

Honolulu looks forward to running an “apples to apples” comparison of turbine hybrid buses versus parallel-hybrid buses powered with conventional heavy-duty diesel engines operating in the same dense urban resort environment.  The battery-dominant design will continue the electrification of bus components including air compressors and power-steering.

Technology advancement in the field of transportation is fast evolving.  As Honolulu  moves forward in the 21st century, technology has become the engine that drives much of its equipment decision-making.  Honolulu’s transit future depends on sustainability; technology will help get us there!

Providing Customers with Real-Time Information

BY ARJAN vanANDEL, Director, Business Development, ITS North America Trapeze ITS U.S.A. Cedar Rapids, IA

Studies have shown that accurate customer information decreases waiting time for transportation services. In addition, good information reduces complaints to agencies such as: “I was waiting in the cold and snow, but my bus never showed up,” and increases such compliments as: “I could take an extra cup of coffee, because I knew the first arriving bus was full.”

With the acquisition of former Siemens/Continental Group, Trapeze added a strong component into the product line, which integrates various planning and scheduling applications such as Trapeze, Giro Hastus, and Schedule Masters. It enabled Trapeze to enter into the real-time traveler information with a full suite of INFOrmation, to provide riders with accurate information for their personal trips.

Customer information is the integrated data from the scheduled system, compared with the real-time positions of the fleet, provided to the individual travelers.  In the past, real-time information was only provided by agencies with Computer Aided Dispatch/Automated Vehicle Location (CAD/AVL) systems. Due to the lack of interfaces between systems, the traveler information was then only provided by the providers of CAD AVL technologies.

Nowadays, interfaces such as TCIP and VDV enable agencies to use traveler information systems from other providers, and are then able to connect in real time to the existing CAD AVL systems. Trapeze developed an application that performs this interfacing with AVL and scheduling systems and creates the opportunity to set up multi-modal systems by integrating train, light rail, and paratransit information. It facilitates one “look and feel” towards the passenger and provides the traveler with door-to-door travel advice.

If the agency does not have vehicle location systems in place, Trapeze can equip vehicles with a low-cost positioning unit that sends vehicle number and adherence to a central location.  Through this method, travelers can be informed without the need to invest in a CAD AVL system.

Main Components of Customer Information

The main components of the customer-facing applications are OnStreet systems, web applications, and mobile applications.

The SmartInfo sign is used on the street at stops where a modern impression is required. This award-winning matrix LED sign can be delivered in multiple variants, such as 2-line and 4-line and with or without speakers to inform hearing disabled people about arrival status of the vehicles. It can communicate using various radio and cellular protocols.

The latest development is to equip shelters with small and compact signs, using low energy. These signs—easy to install and cost efficient—provide riders at shelter locations with arrival information.

Arrival/departure signs are used in terminals or at places where multiple arrivals and departures are taking place and where the transit agency would like to provide additional updates to the riders, such as weather, connection information, or commercial advertisements.

There are various options for web-based information: the trip planner is a proven application installed at many locations throughout North America. By adding a real-time component, the web site gives direct information about delays or disturbances.

Another module shows the next bus arrivals at a certain stop or for a specific route. Buses are shown in real time on a map, so that passengers always can see where their bus or train is.

The latest web applications provide customers with the option to subscribe to travel alerts for such specifics as modal mode, route, and time of day. These multi-lingual applications ensure that the travel is always informed about the status of service and disruptions via e-mail or text message.

Travelers also expect to have the latest information on their mobile devices through a browser or application. I-phone applications and services for Blackberry's and mobile phones with only texting functionality are widely available.

Conclusion

Real time traveler information requires up-to-date schedules and real-time vehicle location information. In the past this information could only be provided as an extension of existing CAD/AVL systems. Today, traveler information can be provided as add-on to an existing system or if no real-time vehicle hardware is installed. Agencies can install modern SmartInfo and ShelterDisplays as well as advanced internet services, including subscription services to alerts for specific routes, disturbances, and modes of transportation. A passenger can expect to have the latest information on hand and will always know when his/her service will arrive. The transit provider can count on higher reliability and better perceived on-time performance.




SamTrans Fareboxes Going High Tech This Spring

BY TASHA BARTHOLOMEW, Public Information Specialist, San Mateo County Transit District San Mateo, CA

Oftentimes, bus riders don’t give a second thought to the machine that takes their fare. It is just like a well-known friend that allows them to get where they need to go. But at the San Mateo County Transit District, where SamTrans provides fixed-route bus and paratransit service throughout San Mateo County and into parts of San Francisco and Palo Alto, this 24-year-old standard is about to be replaced with a new high-tech model.

The GFI Odyssey fareboxes will begin appearing on the entire fleet of nearly 350 SamTrans buses this spring. The state-of-the-art new fareboxes have innovative features, such as the capability for operators to issue change cards and sell Day Passes, which were not previously available on the existing fareboxes. They can also automatically tally and process coins and bills, and will allow SamTrans to use magnetic tickets.

For the first time, SamTrans will have real-time financial information about the revenue being generated by the new fareboxes, with detailed descriptions of the types of customers the transit agency is serving, such as youth, seniors and eligible discount patrons. “The new fareboxes also add a new level of certainty, security and information-reporting to SamTrans,” said Project Manager Roi Kingon, adding: “As we become more sophisticated using the new bus fare collection system, we hope to expand the types of analysis and reporting to help make SamTrans operations more efficient and cost-effective.  The new fareboxes will be beneficial in every aspect—from passenger to the bus operator to the organization.”

More New Features

Riders also will notice a couple of new features that will be used in the near future: a “dip” and a “slide.” Local-ride one-way tickets, purchased by social service agencies, will be the first magnetic tickets introduced and will require customers to “dip” the magnetic tickets into a slot on the top left side of the farebox to activate it. SamTrans plans to introduce a magnetic Day Pass, possibly by late 2011, that customers can “slide” or swipe through a diagonal slot located at the top right of the farebox.
While Monthly Pass customers will continue to flash their paper pass for the bus operator, the paper version of this pass will be replaced by the ClipperSM card at the end of 2011. ClipperSM, an easy-to-use, all-in-one, reloadable regional transit card, is accepted on SamTrans as well as other San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies, including AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate Ferry, and Muni.

A printed “how-to guide” will be provided on buses and a “how-to video” will be posted on the SamTrans website, www.samtrans.com, before the new fareboxes are introduced.

Note:  The San Mateo County Transit District is the administrative body for the principal public transit and transportation programs in San Mateo County: SamTrans bus service including Redi-Wheels paratransit service, Caltrain commuter rail and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. Caltrain and the TA have contracted with the Transit District to serve as their managing agency, under the direction of their independent board of directors.


Choosing the Right Direction in Day-To-Day Decisions

BY JON McDONALD, West Division Rail Systems Director HNTB Corporation San Francisco, CA Chair, APTA Research & Technology Committee

After a train collision in June 2009, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that among the causes were a flaw in the technology chosen to operate the system and the organization’s inability to institutionalize processes that would aid management in making decisions that could have helped to minimize or prevent this accident. 

Our industry has smart people with the right intentions. So why does it appear that they are not using safety in their day-to-day decisions?  In my experience, this disparity happens because of two reasons: (1) organizations have financial limitations and (2) safety is usually thought of as “code,” thus management does not have a mechanism to understand how individual parts of a transit system and day-to-day decisions affect safe operation other than by experience. 

The first reason is obvious. All organizations have financial limitations; it is what causes us to have to make decisions.  The second reason is more complicated because we need to change our safety paradigm from code-based to systems-based—particularly as the system becomes more complex.

Hienrich Model

In the 1930s an insurance investigator named Herbert Hienrich developed an accident model that took into account five elements: the social environment, person, hazard, accident itself, and subsequent injuries. Like dominoes, each of these elements had to be lined up to result in an injury.  Conversely, the removal of any element would prevent injury. In the 1950s, Frank Byrd, an industrial safety expert, noticed that nearly 80 percent of all industrial accidents were caused by management decisions. In adapting Hienrich’s model, Byrd developed the following loss (Fig. 1) causation model, which stated that substandard management systems or decisions could lead to losses.
 
To make good decisions, we need to fully and quantitatively understand how hazards manifest themselves in the highly technical and multifaceted environment of the modern transit system. More importantly, we need a mechanism to tie improvements in safety to financial considerations because, after all, money is finite—and there needs to be a way to determine which choices make our systems as safe as is reasonably practical. Fortunately, there is a way to do this:  it is called quantitative risk analysis (QRA). 

QRA is a complicated way of saying that we figure out what our hazards are, how often they happen, and figure out the impact. The process of QRA, when applied to a project or change in the system, looks like Fig. 2. By quantifying the risks into an easily digestible number, managers have an easier time of determining if risks are acceptable by organizational policy. Also in the grey areas where it may meet policy but determinations must be made between two options, QRA can be used to determine which is safer. Further, by applying a cost value to this safety, with the help of either the organization’s policy or insurance actuary, a determination can be made on whether or not the better solution is worth the expense. This process helps managers select the solution with the lowest hazard value as is reasonable (As Low As Reasonably Practical or ALARP).     
 
In an operating environment, this model can be monitored and adjusted to actual conditions on a day-to-day basis. With input of not only accident records but also maintenance records and configuration changes, these issues can be brought to the immediate attention of management before they become statistics for the NTSB. Using modern IT, we can even create dash boards or service level agreements for contract operators.  Any number of things can be done to provide smart managers with the right tools to make good decisions. 

For Consideration

A final thought for consideration. As the number of experienced transit managers goes down (a direct result of Baby Boomers retiring), and the level of technology goes up because companies are always progressing, and finally—and as our budgets and state of good repair continue to decline in our continued economic slump—won’t our increasingly complex transit systems need such a methodology?

 

 

Figure 1 Illustrates substandard management systems or decisions as factors in loss.     

Figure 2 - Quantitative Risk Analysis 

  

Successful Systems’ Capital Technology Projects

BY RANDY J. KNAPICK, AICP Associate, IBI Group Portland, OR and ANNE O’NEIL, P.E., CSEP Chief Systems Engineer, Capital Program Management MTA New York City Transit New York, NY

Advanced technology has become increasingly vital to the business of public transportation. From the systems that support day-to-day operations to the information services that customers expect to the economic demands to deliver more for less, agencies increasingly turn to technology solutions. As a consequence, the complexity of capital projects has significantly increased—after all, it’s no longer civil projects but systems projects that are built.

Every complex systems project presents risks—and transit agencies rightfully embrace these risks in the name of increased operational effectiveness.  However, many transit agencies have borne the consequences of technology implementations gone awry because fundamental operational needs were not addressed in project development. Examples include surveillance cameras that are not maintainable and fail when a high-profile incident occurs, traveler information that is inaccurate during service disruptions (when customers need it most), and fare systems that have not been vetted for their impact on service delivery or enforcement.  

Unfortunately, many transit agencies struggle with technology implementation. Some of this is the legacy of a project delivery culture rooted in traditional civil capital projects. There are also likely to be institutional barriers that hinder intra-agency communications and cooperation in the design of complex systems. Additionally, there is often a lack of systems expertise among agency staff and their design consultants.

It is important to recognize the degree to which institutional factors impact project risk and the odds of achieving the desired project outcomes. Behind most successful systems capital projects are an organizational process and systems expertise to engage end users, mitigate project risks, and evaluate both technical and institutional complexities of the project.

How do you align your agency stakeholders to achieve a successful project outcome? The following strategies can help you achieve the intra-agency dialogue that is vital to the success of complex systems projects.

Involve End Users in the Project Development Team
More than traditional capital projects, complex systems require input from end users that will ultimately operate and maintain the system. Through inclusive involvement at the outset, the project team is more likely to identify critical business needs of consequence to inform the appropriate system solution. It also engenders a sense of ownership among such departments as operations, maintenance, IT, customer service, and others that assume the long-term mantle of responsibility after implementation. In agencies with organizational barriers or inertia to overcome, a senior management “champion” may be helpful in obtaining sustained cross-departmental collaboration.

Use Business Needs to Drive Technology Solutions
Before specific technology solutions or “widgets” are discussed, the project team should thoroughly understand the underlying business needs. Are there customer service objectives? Efficiency goals? A need for information sharing among business units? New operating procedures to improve service reliability? When business requirements are outcome-based and technology-neutral, there is more opportunity for engineered solutions that fulfill the operating needs. They are also a hedge against technology solutions that appeal superficially, but in actuality do not support the business case and may run contrary to core operating objectives. 

Establish the Project Vision, Roles, and Expected Outcomes
A Concept of Operations documents the primary business objectives and operational expectations of the agency in undertaking the project. It ensures that each department understands its future roles and responsibilities, so there are no surprises following project delivery. Properly facilitated, the Concept of Operations helps reach consensus among diverse project stakeholders and senior management, and allows them to test fit how well alternative design solutions or technology choices meet the agency’s business and operational objectives.

A well-defined Concept of Operations provides a basis for system design requirements and identifies policy or resource changes the agency must implement to successfully assimilate the new technology. Union negotiations, requests for additional resources or skillsets, and modifications to standard operating procedures may all be necessary to achieve the expected outcomes. If the agency cannot achieve these transformations, then an alternate solution should be selected.

Apply Systems Engineering Approach and Expertise

Systems engineering is the art and science of approaching complex systems problems in a structured manner, with the end goal of achieving a project’s high-level business and operational objectives. Trained systems engineering professionals have the skills and techniques to engage the end users, comprehensively document the business/operational goals, and manage the inter-disciplinary design solutions inherent in technology and systems capital projects.  Because systems engineering is typically outside the core expertise of its staff, many agencies need to augment their in-house capabilities.

Systems capital projects are often agents of change within a transit organization. With deliberate attention to the institutional aspects of systems implementation, agencies can successfully deliver innovative solutions that benefit our customers and ultimately transform our industry.  

Joint Council on Transit Wireless Communications: Taking A Look Back – And Moving Forward

BY BARRY C. EINSIG, Market Director, Harris Corporation Washington, DC

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it has been over a year since we launched the Joint Council on Transit Wireless Communications at the APTA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL, in October 2009. During the strategic planning of the organization over the summer of 2009 we set out to fulfill a vision and a mission:

Our Vision: To be the collective voice committed to addressing transit industry wireless communications needs.
Our Mission: To assure that transit industry wireless communications needs are continuously met through information sharing.

To the end of supporting our mission, facilitated by Delma Bratvold, we created a Strategic Plan with three primary components.

Strategic Goal #1. 
Promote and implement standards and regulations affecting private radio to assure uninterrupted communications and optimized spectrum use.

During the course of the past year we have taken some definite steps toward accomplishing these goals.  These include helping to develop course material and providing subject matter experts for the class instruction and webinars on Narrowbanding taught by the NTI, proposing a TCRP quick study program for developing a list of agencies with UHF/VHF licenses that require narrowbanding, developing a narrowbanding brochure and collateral, and creating a narrowband webpage. 

Equally important were the activities surrounding the 700 and 800 MHz bands. These activities included tracking regulatory status of these bands, responding to the FCC request for comments, developing an informational webpage on 800 MHz (rebanding), and beginning to plan for a webpage for the 700 band.

Strategic Goal #2. 
Facilitate transit industry knowledge of commercial communications advances to promote informed decision-making for purchases.

There are three defined steps toward meeting this goal in the strategic plan:
•    Tracking commercial voice and data services, achieved by developing webpage and brochure dispersal on cellular priority of service as well as outreach to the cellular carriers to join our organization.
•    Developing a periodic summary of commercial services applicable to transit, through presentations and conference calls; we also held a Broadband and Transit webinar in conjunction with the Wireless Communication Association International.
•    Identification and development of means for purchase groups, which we look to make more progress on in 2011.

Strategic Goal #3.
  Represent transit industry needs in communications standards development and rulemaking to ensure consideration of public transportation needs. Led by Karl Witbeck, vice chair of the Joint Council, we have been extremely busy this year submitting filings to the FCC, particularly on Notices of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) as well as technical support for APTA on key spectrum issues on 220 MHz for Positive Train Control.  The messaging set has been specific to the commuter railroads; we additionally worked with TCRP to develop a quick study of the spectrum utilization by commuter railroads to help support interoperability between the freight railroads and the commuter railroads. One of the other actions under this goal is the development of a listing of other potential funding sources that could be used for the transit industry’s wireless communications needs. 

Recognizing the need to address the new broadband technologies and applications they enable, a new group was formed during the summer of 2010: the Technologies Committee, chaired by Jim Baker. Finally on Jan. 26, the Joint Council was invited to a workshop hosted by Roberto Mussenden of the Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC.  The workshop focused on VHF/UHF Narrowbanding and its implications for transit agencies come January 1, 2013.

Our Priorities for 2011

Although 2010 was a productive year for the Joint Council, 2011 will have some very important goals. Highest on the agenda is securing a funding source. The council is a volunteer organization with some start-up money provided by TCRP.  But to completely formalize our group’s structure, an additional funding source will be needed. Additionally, the council will continue to work on member value by remembering our goals:

•    Grow membership
•    Hold a seminar for operators
•    Hold member terms/elections
•    Develop liaisons for organizational outreach
•    Create presentations, panels, papers, submit a TRB-Intellidrive Idea Project
•    Develop the council’s position on the FCC “White Spaces” and Net Neutrality
•    Work on standards for Information Assurance for wireless, disaster recovery, and TCIP

If you are interested in our activities or would like to become a member, visit our (web site), or contact Barry.Einsig@Harris.com, 717-855-7896. We look forward to having you as a part of our group.  
 

Adding Flexibility to System Procurements

BY CURTIS PIERCE and BRIN OWEN, Lead Associates, Booz Allen Hamilton Transportation Practice, San Francisco, CA

As the business of transit becomes more dependent on information technology, transit agencies are required to procure more complex technical systems. Typically, these systems are procured as a unit, including all hardware and software components and both customer facing and back-end elements. For complex technical systems such as modern fare collection systems, passenger information systems and vehicle location systems, this procurement method has drawbacks.

Many times procuring the system as a unit limits the choice of suppliers. There are few suppliers able to provide both hardware rugged enough to withstand a transit vehicle environment and software scalable enough to handle the volume of transactions required of many of today’s modern systems used in transit operations. Additionally, procuring from a single vendor means that the agency is wholly reliant upon that vendor’s ability to provide system enhancements, replacements, and spare parts. 

To add more flexibility and competition to procurements, transit agencies have begun to split large procurements into separate components. A common separation point is between the front-end (on-vehicle and customer facing) and the back-end systems. This strategy is supported by the technical approach of using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to link the two parts of the system. The publication and use of an API allows the agency to broaden its ability to source the needs of the program. 

Two Case Studies of Non-Bundling

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) recently replaced its paratransit payment system using this approach. SFMTA needed to replace a paper based “scrip” system of paratransit payments with an electronic fare collection system to reduce fraud and handling costs. SFMTA relies on taxi companies to provide a large portion of its paratransit service and one of the requirements of the project was the need for the taxi companies to be given a choice of on-vehicle equipment suppliers.

SFMTA procured the new system in two stages. First a back-end system or Paratransit Debit Card Central System (PDCCS) was procured in a competitive procurement. There were numerous bidders on the system, including companies that did not manufacture on-vehicle equipment and would not have been able to compete had the system been bundled with the on-vehicle equipment. A requirement of the PDCCS RFP and first deliverable of the subsequent contract was the development and publication of an API that allowed on-vehicle equipment to send transactions to and receive authorization from the PDCCS.

After the API was delivered, SFMTA let a second competitive procurement for the front-end on-vehicle equipment. Under this procurement, SFMTA qualified multiple suppliers, which the cab companies could then select among. Again, many suppliers bid in this procurement that would otherwise not have been able to in a bundled procurement.

The system has been fully operational for nearly a year with mobile data terminals furnished by multiple suppliers interfacing through the API with the PDCCS. The supplier choice provided to the cab companies is a critical component of the new system. “Providing San Francisco’s taxi companies with a choice of mobile data terminal suppliers was absolutely critical to the success of the paratransit debit program,” said Fariba Mahmoudi, SFMTA project manager.

St. Louis Metro had a similar experience as it sought to procure a smart card fare payment system for use on its buses and light rail routes. Based on the experience of other agencies, Metro was concerned it might receive few competitive bids if it sought a single vendor for the entire system. 

Metro therefore conducted a two-stage procurement. The first RFP was for the back-end software and the APIs needed to communicate with the field equipment. After the supplier for the back-end software was under contract, the supplier published the APIs that were then included in the second RFP, which was for the on-vehicle equipment. Not only did different suppliers win the two contracts, there were responses by firms that would have been unable to bid had the procurement required the delivery of an entire system. “By splitting our procurement into two parts we were able to choose the best suppliers for each component and have more suppliers bid as well,” said Tom White, St. Louis Metro project manager.

These two agencies are good examples of the benefits of a split procurement approach.  Additionally, by requiring one of the suppliers to develop and publish the APIs needed to tie the elements together, the agency can be assured that the various components will function well together. Further, this approach can lead to more bids received, greater competition, and the implementation of the strongest solution at every level.

AROUND THE INDUSTRY

GRTC Transit Facility in Richmond, VA, Named ‘Best of the Best’

McGraw-Hill Construction, publisher of Engineering News-Record and other publications, recently honored the GRTC Transit System Bus Operations and Maintenance Facility in Richmond, VA, as the Best of the Best in the Industrial Category of its third annual Best of the Best Awards.

GRTC partnered with Gannett¬Fleming to design and build the $37 million bus operations and maintenance complex, which is also the first public building in Richmond to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver Level Certification. The state-of-the-art facility serves a fleet of approximately 188 buses, paratransit vehicles, and vans.

The complex sits on a 12-acre site and incorporates outdoor bus storage; a three-story, 26,600-square-foot Administration Building for all GRTC Transit System operations; and an ¬adjacent two-story, 100,600-square-foot Maintenance Building with fueling lanes, automatic bus washers, maintenance bays for bus inspections, trouble work, light and heavy maintenance, and a body shop complete with a downdraft paint booth to accommodate articulated buses.

GRTC Transit System used its former facilities in Cary Street in Richmond for more than a century, but the old building could no longer provide the optimal infrastructure, configuration, building systems, and operational equipment required for efficient daily operations.

McGraw-Hill Construction’s national competition recognizes design and construction excellence based on regional winners of McGraw-Hill Construction’s 10 regional publications’ Best of 2010 Awards. Beginning with 255 regional winners, an independent jury of design and construction professionals selects 64 national finalists and 21 winners in categories ranging from green building to transportation.

Riverside, CA, Donates More than One-Half Ton of Spare Bus Parts

The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) in Riverside, CA, recently donated more than one-half ton of spare bus parts to the Riverside Community College District for use by students in the alternative fuels program at Riverside City College.

The donated parts from RTA, ranging from fan belts to transmissions, were pulled from an inventory of spare parts for 40-foot Flxible buses that the agency no longer operates. Last year, RTA donated four 15-year-old, retired Flxible buses to the college district for its emerging classes on alternative fuels and compressed natural gas fuel systems.

Ron Vito, RCC’s vice president of career technical programs, said the donated parts are a perfect complement to the vehicles and will expand the program into new areas. “This is great news for a program that is getting increasingly popular and gaining momentum,” he said. “Thanks to this donation, we now have the capital equipment necessary to help this program reach its true potential.”

RTA Board Chairman Bob Buster called the donated parts “a valuable classroom tool for students.” He added: “This program has the potential to truly spark a career interest in the field of alternative fuels, and perhaps a prosperous job as an RTA technician.”

Grand River Transfer Station Becomes Heart of TOD in La Crosse, WI

Every half hour on weekdays, buses operated by the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility (MTU) stop at Grand River Station in La Crosse, WI, to pick up and drop off passengers. But the recently opened transit center is more than just a central bus hub; it’s part of a transit-oriented development (TOD), along with residential and commercial space, that city officials say will play a primary role in revitalizing the downtown area.

The Grand River Station development, situated in the heart of downtown La Crosse, mixes retail and residential precincts built close to public transportation. It contains the city’s regional transit center, 92 mixed-income rental apartments, ground floor retail space, and parking. Fifteen of the apartments in the station are designed for “live/work” artists or entrepreneurs who work from home.

MTU Manager Keith Carlson said he would like to see the station bring more people to downtown La Crosse. “Our hopes for the future are for further development as a result of transit here. The additional housing will bring more people to the downtown area. As a collective of the two, we want to improve the downtown neighborhood through more businesses and housing,” he explained.

Carlson noted the ripple effect that begins with new residents in the downtown area, leading to a positive effect on the local economy. The project is expected to generate a tax base for the city of La Crosse and provide a significant revenue stream for the transit system to pay for operation and maintenance of the facility and expanded transit services in the community.

“It makes sense. The more people you having living in downtown, the better off your retail is going to be,” said Tim Kabat, director of La Crosse’s Downtown Mainstreet Inc.

The buses that serve the transit center provide connections between the restaurants, bars, and shops of downtown with the rest of the city, including University of Wisconsin La Crosse and several health centers. The facility itself provides such rider-friendly amenities as electronic signs announcing when the next bus is scheduled to depart, an indoor waiting area, public restrooms, vending machines, and a customer service desk.

Additionally, Grand River Station is looking to expand its transportation options. In addition to MTU, the intercity carrier Jefferson Lines uses the station for daily bus service from Madison, WI, and Minneapolis.

The agency began making plans for a new transit center because of serious pedestrian safety concerns at the former transfer location, Fifth and State streets: riders had to cross traffic to transfer between buses and battle ice and snow in the winter months.

“MTU had no identity downtown. We had no way to communicate with riders because of a lack of facility. As a business we hope to improve the image of public transit in La Crosse in hopes of gaining new riders,” Carlson said “In partnership with the city and other entities, we will continue to strive to create additional downtown development. This partnership makes the whole system much better.”

 

An interior view of La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility's Grand River Station. 

 

 

COMMENTARY

High-Tech Transportation: Key for Improving Safety, Efficiency and Return on Investment

BY SCOTT BELCHER President and CEO of ITS America

States across the country are turning to high-tech solutions to solve their transportation challenges. You can bet that cash-strapped city and state governments aren’t embracing technology because of the “cool factor.” They recognize that we need to build smarter—using technology to connect transportation modes, expand traveler choices, and improve traffic management. They also recognize that technology is essential for getting the most out of our existing infrastructure, from roads and bridges to ports and transit systems.

One example gaining traction across the country is the use of smart traffic signals that change based on real-world conditions, which are shown to return $40 in time and fuel savings for every $1 invested.  Private sector companies like INRIX are using technology to provide real-time traffic information that can be used by state and local agencies to manage their transportation systems more efficiently and reduce costs.

A U.S. GAO study found the benefit-cost ratio of a nationwide real-time traffic information system to be 25 to 1, with a $1.2 billion investment returning more than $30 billion in safety, mobility, and environmental benefits.  

Another example is Salt Lake City’s MAX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that uses transit signal priority, real-time bus location technology, advanced fare collection and a more efficient vehicle design to modernize the rider experience while keeping buses on schedule and improving efficiency.  As a result, MAX BRT has increased ridership by a third, reduced travel times by 15 percent, and linked to Utah’s TRAX light-rail system to provide an efficient bus to rail connection.

From cars that avoid crashes, smarter highways like Seattle’s that help reduce traffic congestion, and sensors that provide real-time traffic, transit, and parking information, to stress-sensing bridges, electronic toll collection systems like E-ZPass, and weigh-in-motion truck inspection systems like PrePass, technology is critical for managing our transportation system, improving return on investment, and creating a safer, more user-friendly transportation experience. Unfortunately, while we are making great strides, our approach to deploying intelligent transportation systems (ITS) in the U.S. has been piecemeal at best. Other countries are passing us by when it comes to incorporating technology throughout their transportation system to improve safety, cut down on congestion, and save money—from Japan’s Smartway system to Stockholm’s state-of-the-art congestion pricing network.

When cities and states want to bring those innovations here, they too often have to visit other countries to see how it’s done. As President Obama recently pointed out in the State of the Union, it is time for the United States to reclaim its role as innovation leader. Our transportation infrastructure is a great place to start.

The good news is that we do have pockets of innovation here today, and many of our members at ITS America and at APTA are leading the charge for more widespread adoption of intelligent transportation solutions. Ford, GM, and other automotive leaders are working collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Transportation to pioneer connected vehicles that talk to each other to avoid crashes. Companies like IBM are propelling us toward a future of “smarter cities” that make better use of technology to connect and manage their infrastructure, from the transportation and telecommunications networks to utilities and the energy grid.

What these and other ITS solutions share in common is also the reason they are supported by both the administration and the new class in Congress—they help save money.

In an era where governments at all levels must do more with less, investing in technology ensures that we build a system that is safe, efficient and compatible with a 21st century world. A modern transportation network based on the best available technology is critical for keeping our people and economy moving.

Congress and the administration have an opportunity this year to pass a new multi-year transportation reauthorization bill that not only works to maintain our current transportation infrastructure, but leverages private sector investment and innovative technologies to improve safety, cut congestion, reduce costs, and meet the demands of future generations.  

This is one opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
 

About the Intelligent Transportation Society of America
ITS America is the leading advocate for transportation technology development and deployment in the United States. Members include private companies and industry leaders, government agencies at all levels, universities and research laboratories.  For more information, visit www.itsa.org.