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Intelligent Transportation Systems: 'The Heart of It All'

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) have essentially transformed public transit vehicles into rolling data centers.

Passenger Transport
asked several members of the ITS Passenger Transportation Systems and Services and the Research and Technology committees to offer their observations about the status of ITS implementation by responding to the following question:

As ITS components are increasingly deployed in public transit operations, how can they best be integrated into existing systems to save money and time and to increase safety?

Open Architecture and Integration
Greg Cook
Director of Mobility Services
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
Chair, ITS Committee

ITS were originated to save time, save money and increase safety. Public transportation has always asked for open architecture so there is complete integration among systems.

The AVL/GPS systems have become more sophisticated and operate more quickly with sharper graphics. These systems are matched with the observation of mechanical and electrical systems so repairs can be made before breakdowns occur.

When a bus starts up, it has an array of ITS components that turn on from the farebox, head sign, AVL/GPS, passenger counters, cameras and systems oversight. There are also collision avoidance systems for all sides of a bus.

The camera systems for rail, bus, paratransit, stations and facilities have become so much sharper and better focused that we can do investigations quicker and with more accuracy than ever before.

The latest software packages are used for asset management and state of good repair planning. This is an important task for all of us to monitor and utilize to keep our systems running safely, efficiently and highly relevant.

The real question on how the systems are integrated may be better looked at by asking, How well are transit systems integrating to ITS?

Are business practices changing to better utilize the technology to maximize saving time and money and increasing safety? We are putting tablets in paratransit buses and sending ETA info to customers on their devices, but are we maximizing our on-time performance and increasing safety with our business practices?

I am going to share an example of changing business practices to maximize the use of technology for saving time, money and increasing safety—MARTA’s Integrated Operations Center.

This fantastic building enables dispatchers from rail, bus, mobility and police to operate in tandem. It features a screen that looks like a football field turned on its side, showing where every train, bus and paratransit vehicle is located and where police can get to quickest if needed. The systems all use ITS and look to upgrade things to be even better.

The building also houses the Emergency Operations Center, which MARTA activates when Atlanta has a Final Four, a Super Bowl, a huge concert, holiday or weather event or a major emergency.

ITS are at the heart of it all, with business practices making them efficient, safety-oriented and focused on moving people.

Bringing Value to Entire Organization
Dmitriy Vanchugov
Enterprise Account Manager
Trapeze Group
Member, ITS and Research and Technology committees

Today, with ITS technology becoming ubiquitous throughout small and large public transit operations, our buses and trains are essentially supercomputers on wheels. In fact, imagining a control center without ITS feels a bit nostalgic.

We now see that ITS are spilling out of the control center and bringing value to the entire public transit organization. On board the vehicles, the ITS computer integrates with complementary onboard technology such as camera systems, automated passenger counters and engine controllers, to name a few. This type of onboard integration has opened a new avenue for bringing information back to the central system in real time!

On the back end, ITS are not only helping manage real-time service, but are also quarterbacking information to other departments and their department-­specific systems in an automated way.

For example, ITS can now pick up potential vehicle failures, communicate that information directly to the maintenance system of record (typically an enterprise asset management solution) and allow the maintenance team to remotely investigate the trend on board the vehicle before the failure occurs.

The maintenance team can work with dispatch to figure out the best progression of action: Should they replace the vehicle now or, perhaps in this case, let the vehicle finish scheduled service? Regardless, we know we need to schedule that bus to visit the maintenance bay before any future service is scheduled. Using real-time information previously not available until the next day, transit agencies can make better decisions throughout operations and prevent costly disruptions.

In a sense, ITS has become the central nervous system of transit operations, collecting and transmitting information to the right place, at the right time, in the right format, to the correct audience.

Open-Source Solutions
Sean J. Barbeau
Principal Mobile Software Architect for R&D
Center for Urban Transportation Research/College of Engineering
University of South Florida, Tampa
Member, Research and Technology Committee

Over the last decade, we have seen a revolution in the public transportation industry in how data and systems are created and managed. The 2005 creation of the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), an open format for transit schedule and route information, led to an explosion in open transit data.

As of January 2016, an estimated 1,026 public transit agencies worldwide, including 864 agencies in the U.S., share their GTFS data openly. This wealth of data in a common format has led to the widespread availability of many different types of freely available applications that include transit information, from multimodal trip planners to service analysis tools. This level of integration would have been prohibitively expensive prior to GTFS.

We have also seen an ecosystem of open-source software projects grow around GTFS, and more recently GTFS-real time. Open-source software can reduce the cost of implementation via shared development and maintenance costs among multiple agencies; additionally, improvements created by one agency can be shared with another. Open-source software also allows agencies to keep the same open-source product even if they change vendors, enabling long-term investments in the technology.

The Open­TripPlanner and OneBusAway have emerged as leading platforms for rider-facing multimodal trip planning and real-time arrival information solutions, which have been deployed in more than 25 cities worldwide including Portland, OR, Seattle, Tampa, Atlanta, New York City and Washington, DC.

OneClick, based on OpenTripPlanner, is an open-source project deployed in six cities, which integrates with other systems to provide a large number of multimodal options including paratransit, ride-hailing and taxi services. Transitime, which generates arrival predictions from raw vehicle data, has been deployed in Massachusetts and Washington, DC.

Research enabled by these deployments has shown that riders benefit from shorter actual and perceived wait times while agencies have benefited from increased ridership and customer satisfaction. Companies have also integrated open-source solutions with their own products to offer new services.

The end result is an increased pace of innovation in the industry with reduced cost and time to implement for all.

Integrating ITS and ZEBs
David Warren
Director of Sustainable Transportation
New Flyer of America
Member, ITS and Research and Technology committees

As zero-emission buses (ZEBs) are deployed throughout North America, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) will have a significant role in assisting public transit operators to make certain vehicles are performing reliably, to the highest safety standards and to optimal efficiency.

Using a combination of on-board telematics systems and cloud-based support services, ZEBs with ITS are operating daily in Chicago and other cities tracked with real-time data to monitor vehicle health and location, driver performance, battery system diagnostics and charging system usage patterns. ITS (including New Flyer’s Connect® ) help transit agencies evaluate every aspect of the battery-electric bus propulsion and energy storage system, including battery temperatures, voltage and current, electric motor thermal cooling, battery state-of-charge status, range remaining, regenerative braking battery charging recovery, HVAC energy consumption and other parameters.

ITS on ZEBs provide maintenance managers with electric propulsion ­diagnostics for preventive measures by identifying areas where the lifespan of subcomponents can be improved. As an example, operator trainers can retrieve drivers’ vehicle speed and braking performance to advise them on techniques for capturing regenerative power during deceleration to recharge the batteries and minimize brake wear.

Using GPS tracking, ZEBs can be monitored on specific routes to identify energy consumption patterns to provide transit planners information to assess time of use and peak demand power costs. ­Charging session historical data can be used in simulation models to determine the time of day, location and duration of a charging sessions for route planning.

If an abnormal situation with a ZEB occurs, transit dispatchers are immediately sent an alert to assess the situation and advise the driver of an unsafe or maintenance condition.

The integration of ITS with ZEBs is vital to reduce emissions and greenhouse gases in communities of every size and location. The actual performance of ZEB technology, however, depends on how effectively ITS data and information are used.

To date, ZEB deployments are growing in number and ITS are playing a major role in the early stages of the industry’s learning curve. As ZEBs migrate toward larger deployments, ITS will have a decisive role in measuring the return on investment and operational benefits.

Keeping End Goals in Mind
Joe Hewes
Executive Vice President
RouteMatch Software

Public transit is on the cusp of a sea change with emerging new technologies and service models disrupting the market. These new technologies would be best integrated with existing data by keeping the end goals of accessibility and massive user adoption top of mind.

To get there, certain areas will need to be examined. One is how an agency manages data. It’s much easier and less expensive if data is owned by the public transit system and is accessible in real time.

Being able to connect with other partners in the transit ecosystem—such as private providers, businesses, universities and other agencies—is another area. Agencies will look more at building and strengthening partnerships with other entities and seek opportunities on how to share data, such as through public or private cloud models or other creative and open means for faster deployment and more fluid data sharing.

This data sharing extends to riders as well. They will need to be able to take advantage of back office ITS to make decisions on how and when to take transit.

It is more important than ever for public transit agencies to revisit their technology vision and ensure that whatever is in place supports future developments and won’t be obsolete in a few years. This means establishing a foundation that can support integration of “plug and play” types of technologies, the proliferation of rider-centric mobile applications and other applications that have been more popular in other industries.

We feel that rider loyalty applications—such as trip planning, automated fare collection and other variations of these that crop up—will be transformative. They will push transit agencies to examine and potentially overhaul how existing technology has been structured. It’s an exciting time.
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