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In 2001, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) made a radical change in its approach to technology. Instead of gradually adopting new technology and simply applying it to long-standing practices, KCATA fully embraced technology, using it to dramatically improve both management practices and customer communication. Today, KCATA has achieved significant success with technology and become one of the more technologically advanced mid-sized bus properties in the country.

Technological systems implemented since 2001 are flourishing in all areas of the organization. Vehicle and facilities maintenance operations were automated with the Spear 2000 Work Manager system, including corrective maintenance, repetitive PM programs, inspections, overhauls and campaigns. Computers are now essentials on the shop floor and in KCATA’s bus maintenance bays, and handheld computers are in the hands of service workers. Maintenance personnel with no prior exposure to computers now use them every day to process work orders, procure parts and track costs.

Scheduling and run-cutting functions were automated with implementation of Hastus, allowing greater optimization and efficiency of vehicle timetables and operator assignments. In addition, Hastus interfaces with KCATA’s automatic vehicle location system to analyze schedule adherence and passenger counts. Hastus also allows Kansas City transit customers to do their own trip planning via the Internet with KCATA’s E-Trip Planner.

The most significant technology improvement was implementation of the TransitMaster radio/ITS system. Activated in 2005, TransitMaster is the backbone for several key improvements, including computer-aided dispatching, automatic stop announcements, route and operator performance tracking, live access to real-time data for road supervisors (via laptops in supervisory vehicles), a traffic signal priority system for the MAX bus rapid transit line and real-time arrival information displays for customers at all MAX stations (with more than 40 real-time arrival signs operating at the end of 2006). KCATA will continue to expand features of the TransitMaster system with implementation of WebWatch later this year, which will allow customers to view real-time arrival/departure information via KCATA’s Web site.

Behind the scenes, KCATA has doubled the number of computer workstations and servers, added two wireless networks, moved the IT department to larger quarters and increased fiber optic cabling throughout the central service complex.

The expansion of technology has not been without significant issues and steep learning curves. The TransitMaster radio/ITS system was a major undertaking and took months of collaboration between the vendor, the IT department staff and the primary users to reach an acceptable level of reliability.

Implementation of new technology is credited for being a key factor in improving public transportation’s image in Kansas City. We plan to build on this success and continue to emphasize technology as a means of improving transit service in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Laura Reeves is the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s IT manager.